Israel on Sunday authorized the establishment of a national guard under far-right security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who said it would target Arab unrest, and political rivals accused him of setting up a sectarian “militia”.
The previous government had begun establishing an auxiliary police force to combat internal political violence following pro-Palestinian protests in mixed Jewish-Arab areas during the Gaza Strip war in May 2021. That government fell before being the force to an end.
The precise powers of the new national guard will be discussed by a committee made up of all of Israel’s security agencies, which will submit recommendations within 90 days, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear who would have direct authority over the national guard.
Israel’s police chief, Inspector General Yaakov Shabtai, expressed doubts about the new force in a letter to Ben-Gvir, local media reported.
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Ben-Gvir, a hard-line Jewish settler from the West Bank with past convictions for support for terrorism and incitement against Arabs – who make up 21 percent of Israel’s population – rose in politics in part because on the 2021 unrest.
After easing some of his posts, he holds an expanded law and order portfolio in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition.
Ben-Gvir described the proposed national guard in media interviews as an update on the previous government’s initiative. Discussing his planned deployment, he named only Arab communities affected by riots or crime, in Israel and along the borders with the Palestinian West Bank.
“This will deal exclusively. The police do not deal exclusively with this. It is busy with a thousand and one thing,” he told Army Radio.
Arab politicians have criticized the national guard as a “militia” for Ben-Gvir. Other opposition figures have accused Ben-Gvir of wanting a new force to crack down on demonstrations across the country against the government’s judicial reform plan.
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“Why does the State of Israel need another national guard – which has an army, police, military intelligence, the Shin Bet, Mossad, the National Security Council, the Prison Service, riot police, SWAT team?” wrote the lawmaker. Arab Ayman Odeh on Twitter.
Government funding will enable the new force to initially hire 1,850 personnel, Ben-Gvir said, adding that these could be seconded police officers and volunteers, including from the Arab sector.
He said it would take months for the national guard to get off the ground and he wanted to fill police positions in parallel.
Israel’s police chief Shabtai questioned the need for the national guard and warned that any separation from the police hierarchy could be “expensive and even harmful to the security of citizens”, according to the Ynet news site.
Confirming the existence of the letter, Ben-Gvir said he would meet with Shabtai on Monday and was open to the possibility of putting the national guard under the command of the police “if they are serious and really want it”.
Netanyahu in a weak position
The plan was part of a deal between Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir, which threatened to collapse after the prime minister halted a controversial plan to reform the judiciary after weeks of mass protests led the country to stop on monday.
Ben-Gvir agreed to the delay because it allowed him to create a national guard that would be loyal to his ministry.
‘It is clear that Netanyahu’s political position is extremely weak. His poll numbers are at an all-time low, and his own party is extremely resentful of him’
– Yonatan Touval, analyst
“It is clear that Netanyahu’s political position is extremely weak,” Yonatan Touval, an analyst at the Israel Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim), said after the decision on the national guard.
“His poll numbers are lower than ever, and his own party is very resentful of him,” said Touval, speaking to Middle East Eye.
Ben-Gvir has long supported the creation of a national guard and wants “to have a paramilitary force directly under his command that he can deploy in mixed Arab-Israeli towns within Israel,” Touval said.
“It goes without saying that whenever tension and violence arise, the law and order enforcement force would target Arab residents,” he said.
Ben-Gvir has already told the police to crack down harder on the anti-government protests that have gripped the country since January.
The Society for Civil Rights in Israel said: “We have already seen what happened when Ben-Gvir tried to suppress the protests; now one can only imagine what will happen when he has his own militia. “
Palestinian citizens are likely to fear Israel and those living in the occupied territories, as it is likely that it could be used against them.
“If Kahanist Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a convicted felon, is given a private militia, it will likely be a new low for Palestinian human security throughout the occupied Palestinian Territories,” said Robert Andrews, the public relations officer at the human rights NGO. the European Forum.
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Rabbi Meir Kahane was an Israeli-American who led a far-right group that gave rise to Kahanism, an extremist Zionist religious worldview based on Jewish supremacy.
Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party has in the past fought Kahanist ideology and is an important coalition member in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.
“The decision to grant a private militia to fascist Ben-Gvir will certainly help his clear anti-Palestinian agenda,” Andrews told MEE.
In the last few months, Ben-Gvir has already introduced a series of draconian measures against Palestine.
In February, the Israeli parliament passed the first phase of a bill, introduced by the Jewish Power Party, to stop funding unnecessary medical treatment for Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Since joining Netanyahu’s government late last year, the security minister has vowed to crack down on the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, who he says are being treated too well.
Ben-Gvir also ordered that bakeries run by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons will be closed and that the detainees will only be given a four-minute shower.
“With a private militia now under his full control, it is already clear – according to his statements so far – that Ben-Gvir will use the group to further legitimize settler violence against the Palestinian people under the guise of ‘protecting the law and the order’, ” said Andrews.
“The Hilltop Youth, [an extremist religious-nationalist settler group]already regularly carry out terror and attack Palestinian civilians and property with impunity,” he said.
“It can be expected that the militia of Ben-Gvir will continue the acts of violence and terrorism against Palestine, even though they are wearing a uniform and officially part of the state apparatus.”
Despite such concerns, Touval said the decision to form a national guard is likely to be made in the courts and he is not sure Ben-Gvir has control over it.
“The creation of such a force is likely to lead to legal challenges, especially if, as the latest plan states, the national guard is to be separate and independent from the police and subordinate to the Ministry of National Security and its attention, Ben-. Gvir himself,” said Touval.