A member of the steering committee for National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s proposed national guard said in 2019 that Israel should not differentiate between combatants and civilians in wars and that Israeli civilians should play an active role in combat.
“Whoever finds himself in the line of conflict, it is because he chose or someone chose on his behalf for him to be there. There should be no distinguishing between gender, sex, age, or anything else. Whoever is in the line of conflict has one right: either to win or to die,” Efraim Laor said during a lecture at Bar Ilan University, according to a Monday report by Channel 13.
He also complained that “a lot of energy is exhausted by the defense establishment in order to avoid harming non-combatants.”
Laor is one of the roughly 15 members of the steering committee established earlier this year under Ben Gvir’s directive for his planned national guard force.
Laor is a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces who received accolades for his conduct during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In recent years, he has held leadership positions in several organizations involved in disaster relief.
In the 2019 lecture, Laor also said Israeli civilians should take an active role in combat. He lauded how rebel groups in Syria have used civilians to fight against the government in the country’s civil war.
“Israeli civilians should have long ago started to do this,” he said.
He discussed a potential scenario in which the northern town of Kiryat Shmona comes under attack from Lebanon. Laor argued that it should be up to the residents of Kiryat Shmona, not the IDF, to protect themselves.
“It is absurd that any Arab from [the Lebanese town] Marjaayoun can fire at Kiryat Shmona and a Jew from [the northern Israeli border town] Metulla cannot fire at the town of Marjaayoun. Kiryat Shmona needs to defend itself,” he said.
“Civilians are part of the fighting,” Laor said, arguing that the IDF should be reserved for fighting inside enemy territory.
Asked for comment on the lecture, Ben Gvir’s office told Channel 13 that the minister had been unfamiliar with it but did not elaborate further.
The cabinet voted in April to establish the national guard, which the far-right Ben Gvir has demanded will report directly to him.
The controversial force is expected to comprise 2,000 servicemembers who will be tasked with tackling “nationalist crime” and terrorism, and “restoring governance where needed.” The timeline for the creation of such a force remains unclear. The specific powers granted to the national guard, and whom it will answer to, are also still up in the air.
The move has drawn widespread criticism, including from Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, who warned that if the unit was not subordinate to the police it would lead to a breakdown of the police force along with damage to citizens’ security.
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has also sounded the alarm, telling the government that there is a “legal impediment” to the current version of the proposal and that the police force can deal with the challenges it faces without a competing body.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Ben Gvir that he would bring the issue to a cabinet vote in exchange for the far-right minister remaining in the government, despite Ben Gvir’s strong opposition to the premier’s pause of judicial overhaul legislation to allow for dialogue with the opposition. Netanyahu has since stated that he would not allow the national guard to become Ben Gvir’s “private militia.”
A chorus of former senior police commanders has also warned against the plan, including former police chief Moshe Karadi, who said Ben Gvir could use the force to launch a “coup.”
Civil rights groups, as well as opposition politicians, have similarly expressed extreme concern over the proposal to bring such a force under the direct control of a cabinet minister, arguing that it could politicize policing and undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement.