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Cabinet approves National Guard under Ben-Gvir’s authority

Several ministers expressed opposition to the move but still voted in favor.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, Feb. 15, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, Feb. 15, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Cabinet at its weekly meeting Sunday approved the creation of a national guard force under the auspices of the National Security Ministry headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The Cabinet also approved 1.5% budget cuts to all government ministries—some $280 million in total—to finance the new force.

The exact responsibilities of the force will be discussed by a professional committee composed of members of all Israeli security agencies, the National Security Council and relevant government ministries.

However, the National Guard will deal with national emergencies, including intercommunal violence like that which erupted between Israeli Arabs and Jews during the May 2021 war against Hamas.

The committee will propose whether the force should be subordinate to the Israel Police commissioner or to another body, with recommendations submitted to the Cabinet within 90 days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to have promised Ben-Gvir his support for the proposal in exchange for the latter’s agreement not to bolt the coalition in protest over Netanyahu’s decision to delay judicial reform legislation.

Several Cabinet ministers expressed reservations about the move to fund the separate security body but still voted in favor.

“You want everything fast and it comes at our expense,” Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel of Likud said, Channel 12 reported.

Ben-Gvir also reportedly rejected a proposal by representatives of the Finance Ministry who said they could find a dedicated budget for the National Guard in a few months without having to cut other areas of the budget.

The funding approval comes amid mounting opposition to the National Guard under Ben-Gvir.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai are both opposed to a national guard subordinate to the Otzma Yehuda Party leader.

Baharav-Miara said that “at this time” she is against the force being created under the control of Ben-Gvir due to a “legal impediment” over duties already being performed by the Israel Police, Channel 12 reported.

Shabtai sent a letter to Ben-Gvir warning the minister that the National Guard as a separate entity from the police force “could cause heavy damage to the operational capabilities of the internal security systems in the country due to damage to the unity of command and, above all, a lack of clarity regarding the commanding entity that bears overall responsibility in a territorial area.”

The letter continues, “Any of the entities that will be determined as a responsible commanding entity will have difficulty. It is very important to exercise his responsibility since some of the central forces in the activity will not be subordinate to him. The result of all this could be serious operational failures.”

Otzma Yehudit Party head Itamar Ben-Gvir and Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai at the bat mitzvah of the former’s daughter in Kiryat Arba, Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

Police strength could be hurt by the transfer of certain units from the Border Police to the National Guard, the commissioner warned.

Shabtai also sent the letter to Netanyahu. The commissioner said that no decision should be made on the National Guard “without holding an in-depth discussion in the Cabinet in which the position of the police will be heard.”

Ben-Gvir’s office responded to Shabtai’s letter by saying that “ego wars” were the reason senior police officials were against the guard.

“There is a consensus that a National Guard is necessary to take care of personal security, to fight the phenomenon of illegal possession of weapons, the crime wars, agricultural terrorism—and therefore the National Guard will be established,” the statement from Ben-Gvir’s office said.

“If the police present a serious plan, we will positively consider doing it through the police. If not, the guard will operate under the Ministry of National Security,” it continued.

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