Is Israel's police chief on his way out?

Despite attempts by Kobi Shabtai to bridge the gap with Itamar Ben-Gvir, the latter’s need for quick results could mean designating a more cooperative Police chief.

 Israeli chief of Police Kobi Shabtai attends Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on June 15, 2022. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli chief of Police Kobi Shabtai attends Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on June 15, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There has recently been concern for Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai's stability in the position with the new coalition coming in due to his recent blunders, the expanded authority Itamar Ben-Gvir has requested at the expense of the police chief as national security minister and the long-standing tension between the two.

On Tuesday, the police chief spoke with the police officers who killed a terrorist that injured an IDF soldier near Kochav Yaakov, praising the actions of the two. "A dead terrorist - that's what I want to see," Shabtai said. His comment received a massive wave of backlash, both on the political side and in the public.

"A dead terrorist - that's what I want to see."

Kobi Shabtai

“There is nothing wrong with the current rules of engagement – which emphasize that a suspect must be neutralized, not outright killed,” high-ranking police officials clarified shortly thereafter to N12, raising concern that such a statement may cause police officers to have a "light finger" on the trigger.

Such a statement could, however, be an attempt to appease Ben-Gvir by falling in line with his more aggressive stance on public security.

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir during a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)MK Itamar Ben-Gvir during a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Kobi Shabtai and Itamar Ben-Gvir's past conflicts

In recordings uncovered by KAN on Tuesday, Shabtai belittled the severity of public unrest before the start of operation Guardian of the Walls. "Let's not get carried away, the situation will calm down in two or three days," he said.

The recordings did not go unnoticed, notably by Ben-Gvir himself. "It is clear to everyone that no one deserves any medals for Guardian of the Walls, but on the other hand, Shabtai is a highly experienced police chief. I said and I say again - I am not going to fire anyone," Ben-Gvir said during a party meeting.

"It is clear to everyone that no one deserves any medals for Guardian of the Walls, but on the other hand, Shabtai is a highly experienced police chief. I said and I say again - I am not going to fire anyone."

Itamar Ben-Gvir

Ben-Gvir has criticized Shabtai multiple times in the past nevertheless, calling for his resignation and even threatening to sue him. Shabtai, in turn, stated that Ben-Gvir’s past actions were woefully irresponsible and directly caused violence and incited riots.

Following these recent controversies coupled with Ben-Gvir’s demands to take power away from the position, several high-ranking police officials, including past police chiefs, said that Shabtai should resign.

Ben-Gvir, indeed, demanded to have full control over the management of the police budget as well as over the deployment forces in certain areas, as part of his extended authority as national security minister, completely overriding the police chief.

"Shabtai understands that Ben-Gvir will want to show the public quick results, and fears that he will want to appoint another commissioner himself. He will have to work hard to appease him," a senior police official told Ynet.