Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu (center) attends a session to elect the new speaker of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) at its Plenum Hall in Jerusalem on Dec 13, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
JERUSALEM – Senior Israeli military officials and veterans have voiced concerns over possible control over key posts by the ultra-nationalist partners in the new coalition government led by Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military confirmed in a statement that outgoing Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi held a rare meeting with Netanyahu over the weekend "in the wake of publications about the possibilities of legislations related to the IDF."
During the meeting, Kochavi expressed "deep concerns" over coalition deals in which Netanyahu promised to give Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the pro-settler Religious Zionist party, control over the Civil Administration, which is in charge of most aspects of lives in the occupied West Bank, state-owned Kan TV reported on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu promised to give control over the police and the paramilitary Border Police to Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Power Party and a former activist convicted of supporting Jewish terrorism and inciting racism
In another coalition deal, Netanyahu promised to give control over the police and the paramilitary Border Police to Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Power Party and a former activist convicted of supporting Jewish terrorism and inciting racism.
Currently, both the Civil Administration and Border Police are under the Israeli defense ministry, which also oversees the military. To put Smotrich and Ben-Gvir in charge of those new posts, amendments to the current Israeli laws are needed to split the defense ministry.
During the weekend meeting, Netanyahu promised Kochavi that the amendments will be brought to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, only after the military's professional opinions on them are heard and considered.
However, Netanyahu's coalition continued to push forward the amendments and the Knesset passed them early on Tuesday to allow Smotrich, who calls for the annexation of the West Bank, to be in charge of the Civil Administration.
The amendments will pave the way for Smotrich to serve in a ministerial position within the defense ministry.
Smotrich has called for accelerating the building of settlements, a move largely seen by the international community as illegal and an obstacle to peace because the settlements have been established on the lands claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.
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On Tuesday night, the Knesset began discussing the amendments to allow Ben-Gvir greater control over the police and the Border Police. The final vote is expected late on Tuesday or early Wednesday.
In a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday, about 1,200 Air Force veterans warned against granting the power to the extreme-right politicians in Netanyahu's ruling coalition
In a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday, about 1,200 Air Force veterans warned against granting the power to the extreme-right politicians in Netanyahu's ruling coalition.
"What we have in common today is the fear that the democratic state of Israel is in danger," the letter read, urging legislative officials to do everything in their power to "halt the disaster" that will harm the country.
The veterans include Dan Halutz, a former IDF chief of staff, Avihu Ben-Nun, a former Air Force commander, and Amos Yadlin, a former head of military intelligence.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid also condemned the moves taken by the new coalition. "Even before it was established, this government will be remembered as the most corrupt of all time," he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz also wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the amendments threaten "the status of the Israel Defense Forces as the people's army." He warned that the new appointments would "harm the security and functioning of the IDF."
Before the Nov 1 parliamentary election, Netanyahu's allies agreed to pass a law to postpone or cancel the ongoing trial of Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
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Netanyahu previously served as Israel's prime minister between 1996-1999 and again from 2009 to 2021 before he was ousted by a coalition government formed by Lapid and Naftali Bennett in June 2021.
The new coalition government, which will be the most rightist in Israeli history, is expected to be sworn in on Thursday.