Fearing Israeli Version of Capitol Riots, Knesset Guard Stocks Up on Riot Gear

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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The Knesset building, in April.
The Knesset building, in April. Credit: Emil Salman
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The Knesset's security force recently stocked up on riot-control gear amid concerns of an attack on Israel's parliament in the wake of the assault on the U.S. Capitol in January by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Officers in the Knesset Guard discussed the possibility of a mass break-in a few weeks after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on January 6. However, so far there has been no indication of a similar attack being planned in Israel.

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The Guard purchased 300,000 shekels (about $92,000) worth of equipment, including rifles that fire sponge-tipped bullets, flash bangs and tear-gas grenades. The Guard also set up training sessions with the Police Special Anti-Terror Unit, known by the Hebrew acronym Yamam.

The Guard was concerned about a scenario in which protesters breached the security perimeter around the Knesset compound, which is manned by police officers, and entered the areas under the sole responsibility of the Knesset security force. The Guard ultimately rejected a proposal to establish its own version of a Yamam unit to handle such a scenario.

The Guard is in charge of maintaining order and security inside the Knesset, in the surrounding plaza and in other adjacent areas. The police are barred from the area. The Guard is headed by the Knesset sergeant-at-arms, whose rank is equivalent to that of a police brigadier general and who has the same responsibilities as a district commander.

In the summary of the Knesset Guard meeting, it was agreed that in case of an emergency the Guard and the police would work together. "It is therefore necessary for Guard officers to be trained by the police so that the forces would be coordinated should the need arise," the summary said. The summary also stressed the need to have a unified system of riot-control measures in the interest of smooth collaboration between the Guard and the police.

A police official objected to arming the Guard with riot-control gear, voicing concerns that their use in the areas under guard control could harm police officers on the perimeter. "The Capitol events made us understand something similar could happen in Israel, especially against the backdrop of the fragile political situation. But in practice, the likelihood is very low. Even in the fiercest demonstrations of the last two years, the Knesset wasn't a target," the official told Haaretz.

The Knesset Guard discussions were highly classified. Channel 12 News reported in January that preliminary discussions of the matter included then Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and then Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, both of them members of Likud.

In the January attack on the U.S. Capitol, thousands of protesters charged into the building while the lawmakers inside were ratifying President Joe Biden's victory over Trump. Hundreds broke into the Capitol, vandalized property and absconded with various items. At least five people were killed, including one police officer.

The Knesset said in response: "The Knesset Guard routinely works to improve its professional capabilities and to prepare for various scenarios in collaboration with all the relevant security bodies."

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