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Ben-Gvir exploring options for Israel’s next top cop

The national security minister and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai are at loggerheads.

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at a committee meeting in the Knesset, Dec. 14, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
MK Itamar Ben-Gvir and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at a committee meeting in the Knesset, Dec. 14, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is holding consultations with police brass with a view to tapping a new commissioner.

Current top cop Kobi Shabtai’s term expires in January, and he is not expected to be offered an extension, with the two men having regularly clashed since before the Netanyahu government’s inauguration.

Among those being considered to succeed Shabtai are Border Police Commander Amir Cohen, Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman and Coastal Region Police Commander Yoram Sofer.

The rift between Ben-Gvir and Shabtai seemed to peak in March when the former moved to replace Tel Aviv District Police chief Ami Eshed over disputes on how to deal with anti-judicial reform protests.

At the time, Shabtai said that he had “made a mistake” in approving the removal of Eshed from his post and indicated he mulled resigning but decided to stay.

In an interview, Ben-Gvir suggested that Shabtai was “under several types of pressure. The radical left is pressuring him, and I hope he doesn’t surrender. There is a policy of the Israeli government, and the police commissioner needs to implement the minister’s policy.”

The two are also at odds over the Cabinet’s approval in April of the creation of a National Guard under the auspices of Ben-Gvir.

The exact responsibilities of the force are being determined by a professional committee composed of members of all of Israeli security agencies, the National Security Council and relevant government ministries. It will deal with national emergencies, including intercommunal violence like that which erupted between Israeli Arabs and Jews during the May 2021 war (“Operation Guardian of the Walls”) against Hamas.

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.”

In December, the two men engaged in a public argument during a Knesset hearing over the so-called “Ben-Gvir Bill,” which shifted significant powers from the commissioner to the minister who oversees the police.

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