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Israel to form national guard proposed by far-right minister Ben Gvir


TEL AVIV — Israel’s government on Sunday greenlit the formation of a national guard, handing a victory to the far-right minister who proposed the force and drawing condemnation from security officials who warned it could destabilize the country.

In a statement, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the national guard “will deal with national emergency situations,” and referred to the internecine violence that accompanied Israel’s military incursion in Gaza in 2021.

That period saw particularly violent clashes between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel in mixed cities across the country. It also helped give rise to the political career of extremist settler and national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, the right-wing proponent of the national guard force.

Netanyahu endorsed Ben Gvir’s national guard proposal last week, in exchange for the minister’s support amid a national crisis over plans to restructure Israel’s judiciary. Ben Gvir, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, backed the prime minister’s decision to freeze the judicial reform package.

Itamar Ben Gvir: How an extremist settler became a powerful Israeli minister

The legislation, which could give the government a greater say in judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court, has spurred widespread opposition from a cross-section of Israeli society. In the three months since its inauguration, Netanyahu’s government — cobbled together with once-fringe ultranationalist and ultraconservative religious parties — has led to a period of national division and security crisis, defense officials say.

On March 26, Netanyahu dismissed Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he publicly opposed plans for a judicial overhaul. Now, Israel’s government is proposing major budget cuts to fund Ben Gvir’s guard — including a reallocation of 1 billion shekels, or $277 million from all other ministries. The government will also cut an estimated $85 million from the Defense Ministry, which holds the largest state budget.

“They will cut funding intended [for] health, education, security, all to finance a private army of thugs for this Tik Tok clown,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said of Ben Gvir in a video statement. “The only thing that keeps this government busy is trampling democracy and promoting extremist fantasies of delusional people.”

Ben Gvir, a former activist and attorney for settlers accused of violently attacking Palestinians, has been convicted dozens of times for charges that include support for terrorist organizations and anti-Palestinian incitement. Until 2020, he hung a portrait in his home of an Israeli gunman who killed 29 Palestinians in a West Bank mosque in 1994.

He has for years talked about the need for a national guard under his command, saying that a force composed of both regular armed forces and volunteers could be deployed during high-intensity emergency situations like the violent riots of 2021.

According to the prime minister’s office, a committee will discuss the national guard’s jurisdiction, responsibilities, and chain of command and present recommendations to the cabinet within 90 days.

Meet the Israeli protesters resisting Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul

In a letter made public on Sunday, Israeli police commissioner Kobi Shabtai called the move to form a national guard “unnecessary, with extremely high costs that may harm citizens’ personal security.”

It also risks “causing heavy damage to the country’s internal security systems,” Shabtai said. He was not allowed to attend Sunday’s cabinet discussion, Israeli media reported.

Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara also told government officials that the proposal faces legal hurdles. Police, she said, “must and can deal with security problems without the need for an additional body.”

In an interview with the Israeli news site Ynet, former defense minister Benny Gantz also criticized Ben Gvir and the national guard proposal.

“I very much hope that Israel will be saved from this problem, which is called Itamar Ben Gvir in the national security ministry,” he said, adding that the minister was unaware of the complexity, professional and years-long commitment needed to create a national guard.

The country, he said, is facing “an attack on the holy of holies: the security of the State of Israel.”


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