Israel's incoming national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is planning to shift a considerable number of Border Police companies from the West Bank to the Negev to "strengthen governance in the south," as the far-right leader of the Otzma Yehudit party described it.
This is according to former senior law enforcement officials with whom he conferred recently. That would leave only a limited Border Police presence in the West Bank.
Ben-Gvir expressed a desire to launch a significant operation in Israel's Negev region from the outset of his term as minister, sources have told Haaretz. That would involve relocating some of the 18 Border Police companies, many of whose members are career police officers rather than conscripts.
The plan calls for the forces to be transferred to the Negev and other areas of the country to reinforce the Israel Police – once legislation is passed to put the country's police under the more direct authority of the national security minister.
Alongside the move, the far-right lawmaker is set to take control of the Negev and Galilee Ministry and siphon off the so-called Green Police from the Environmental Protection Ministry, giving him far-reaching powers in the southern region.
The Negev is home to the vast majority of Israel's Bedouin population, most of whom live in unrecognized communities and lack access to basic services. Ben-Gvir, who has a history of anti-Arab incitement, is eager to intensify enforcement efforts against illegal construction and crime.
Israel's attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to oppose giving Ben-Gvir expanded authority.
It is not clear which forces would replace the Border Police leaving the West Bank, which has been the scene of unrest in recent months. The move would apparently require calling up Israeli army reservists or reservists from the Border Police.
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The Border Police in the West Bank currently serve in a number of locations in the territory, including Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin and near the West Bank settlement of Shaked, which is not far from the Green Line separating the West Bank and Israel proper. They also serve in East Jerusalem.
"The whole story of the Border Police in the West Bank and making them subordinate to the minister still isn't clear to anyone in the police," one senior official told Haaretz. "It involves the most significant force, which has real policing authority in very sensitive locations. To the extent that they are transferred to the south, it would create a substantial vacuum that would have to be filled by effective forces," the source said.
"Any shift of West Bank Border Police into Israel requires the approval of the defense minister and [Israel Defense Force] chief of staff," another senior source said, "and there is already a shortage of forces in the sector, particularly in light of concern regarding a security escalation in the West Bank."
According to sources with whom Ben-Gvir conferred, he intends to implement a plan developed by Brig. Gen. (ret.) Gal Hirsch entitled "The campaign to restore internal security." Hirsch's initial plan calls for legislation changing open-fire regulations as well as enlisting the involvement of the Shin Bet security service in the fight against organized crime. It would also establish a national guard headed by an officer with a rank comparable to that of the head of the Israel Police. In addition to Hirsch's plan, Ben-Gvir reportedly suggested government support for the Hashomer Hachadash volunteer force, which detractors have called a militia movement.
Just this past Thursday, the Border Police in the West Bank got a new commander, Brig. Gen. Barak Mordechai. Ben-Gvir, who has not yet taken office, sought to halt Mordechai's promotion to brigadier general, saying that no such senior appointments should be made in the interim period prior to incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government takes office.
Nevertheless, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai promoted Mordechai with the approval of outgoing Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev. Ben-Gvir is due to succeed Bar-Lev in the position and has received a commitment from Netanyahu to expand the ministry's powers and change its name to the National Security Ministry.
Ben-Gvir appealed to Attorney General Baharav-Miara to stop Mordechai's appointment. She declined and Shabtai chose not to attend the ceremony in which Mordechai was promoted in rank. That same evening, the police commissioner attended Ben-Gvir's daughter's bat mitzvah in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba outside of Hebron.
Ben-Gvir was asked for comment for this article but did not provide a response.