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Israel: Ben-Gvir stirs up crisis over detention of Israeli soldier

Itamar Ben Gvir in Eastern Jerusalem on November 01, 2022 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]
Itamar Ben Gvir in Eastern Jerusalem on November 01, 2022 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

Far-right extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir MK has criticised the army for punishing a soldier after he abused left-wing activists in occupied Hebron, telling him that, "Ben-Gvir is going to change this place." The Israeli parliamentarian is due to be National Security Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, described as the most extreme in Israeli history.

The Israeli soldier was detained for ten days. Ben-Gvir criticised the decision to punish him and said that there was nothing unacceptable about his behaviour. He made a request to visit him in the military prison.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid has condemned the "wild incitement" by right-wing politicians who will be part of the next government coalition. "The new government has not yet taken office and its ministers are already inciting IDF soldiers against their commanders," Lapid wrote on Twitter. "The wild incitement led by the [incoming] ministers and MKsā€¦ is dangerous and destructive and is at the head of the new government."

He stated that the lives of soldiers and citizens depend on having a strong military with a clear chain of command and battle discipline. "This incitement, disguised as 'support', is dangerous, irresponsible and erodes the strength of the IDF."

READ: Israel's Ben-Gvir, in leaked audio, cautious on far-right agenda in government

Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said that attacking a soldier "is unacceptable, and any political interference in commanders' decisions is unacceptable. Slandering commanders on political grounds is a slippery slope that we as a society must not slide down. We will not allow any politician, neither from the right nor from the left, to interfere in command decisions and use the army to promote a political agenda."

Ben Gvir responded by claiming that he had no intention to interfere with the punishment given to the soldier. "But the policy must change. No wonder that when the defence minister is not functioning and there is no one to set policy, a leadership vacuum is created."

Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff, said that transferring the authority for the West Bank Border Police [to Ben-Gvir] would do serious harm. He stressed that military operations and command structures should be kept away from politicians. "While the chief of staff and IDF commanders are subject to the decisions of the political echelon, they have the authority and responsibility to manage the IDF's operational and command activities."

Gantz has also said that he is "worried" about the state of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

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