image Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

Israel to form National Guard

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced the establishment of the new security force, as his last vital decision as head of the Israeli government. 

By Erin Viner

The Premier, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai and Border Police Commander Deputy Commissioner Amir Cohen made a joint statement about the launching of the initiative as part of the Border Police.

“This is my concluding action as Prime Minister: to launch the Israel National Guard and strengthen the public security of the State of Israel,” said Bennett.

Israel was stunned on Monday by the joint decision by Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to dissolve the 24th Knesset and hold early elections. Bennett will step aside to be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, his partner in the fragile eight-party coalition coalition that included far-right, liberal, centrist and Israeli-Arab parties.

“The Israel National Guard is being launched, and for me this is the closing of a circle,” said Bennett. He added that just as he took office a year ago, “Israel was licking its wounds from Operation Guardian of the Walls” 11-day war with the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza combined with “severe disturbances” between Jewish and Arab citizens during the conflict, as well as the threats posed by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah terror group.

The formation of the new “trained and skilled force” is set to “operate in several areas simultaneously and deal with disturbances and emergency scenarios” to “strengthen the public security of the State of Israel as well as the personal security of the citizens of Israel,” said an official government statement.

The Guard will consist of three types of forces: the conscript and professional Border Police, the bolstering of the 20 current reservist combat companies by 26 additional units, and a volunteer division that will strengthen in size from 8,000 to about 9,500 people. Additionally, “a new and skilled volunteer force” known as the “Hod company” will be established, composed of over 1,000 reservists by the end of this year and set to be doubled to 2,000 members in 2023. The Israel Police civil guard will also be beefed up about by about 3,500 additional volunteers at existing stations “to expand readiness on the streets and strengthen the sense of security on a daily basis,” said the statement.

“The goal is to triple the overall strength of the Border Police units: The Hod company almost tenfold and the reserves threefold. The conscript units will also be increased,” said Prime Minister Bennett.

Underscoring that he “cannot exaggerate the importance” of the National Guard “because we cannot go to war abroad if the country is shaky, blocked and coming apart from within,” he then expressed his gratitude to “all of the conscript, reserve and volunteer personnel,” telling them that they “embody the internal strength of the State of Israel and I would like to say thank you.”

Public Security Minister Bar-Lev remarked that Israel “immediately learned the necessary lessons” of last year’s conflict with Gaza.

“It was clear to us that the public security of the State of Israel is the main issue that needed to be dealt with. It was clear to me, to the Inspector General, to the Commander of the Border Police and especially to the Prime Minister – that the Border Police is the first, most immediate and best answer to the issue of public security. Accordingly, over the past year, we have made a revolution in the Border Police: We strengthened the conscript units. We strengthened and tripled the reserve units and we added the volunteers of the Hod company. I have no doubt that these actions of ours, which we will increase, have already brought – and will yet bring – more and much stronger public security to the State of Israel,” he said.

Police Commissioner Shabtai emphasized that the National Guard is “a significant step for the readiness of the Israel Police, in effect that of the State of Israel, in times of emergency and combat.” He added, “Today it is clear to everyone it is not enough to strengthen the military arm of the State of Israel, in all its systems and capabilities. We must also improve and increase the strength of the Israel Police in its responsibility for the public security of the country.

Only one year ago we experienced in Israel an unprecedented event: An attempted uprising by thousands of Arab citizens in dangerous combination criminal and extremist terrorist elements who joined together in order to attack citizens and undermine the foundations of the state. With the establishment of the Israel National Guard we are significantly improving our response to emergency events inside the State of Israel. We are significantly improving our response time in emergencies until the massive mobilization of Border Police reserve units. We are training more people to fight terrorism and deal with disturbances. We are providing better security to the citizens of Israel.”

Border Police Commander Cohen asserted that since establishment of the state, Israel has “faced a reality that requires its citizens to live in the shadow of terrorism and be constantly vigilant against security threats which are liable to catch citizens in cities, in rural areas, along the highways, in holy places, and without warning.”

Going on to stress that the commanders and members of the Border Police, reservists, volunteers, Israel Police, IDF, Israel Security Agency (ISA) and all other  participants in the nation’s security and rescue services “fulfill our operational and moral obligation to you – the citizens of the country, and are working day and night for you with determination, decisiveness, courage and daring for one and only one goal, to safeguard your security and your right to live quietly in the country that is our home.”