Israel's Ben-Gvir squabbles with military chief about ethics

FILE PHOTO: Israeli far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir holds a news conference ahead of Israel's election, in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -An Israeli far-right politician set to take a key security post in Benjamin Netanyahu's emerging government traded barbs on Wednesday with the military chief over the jailing of a soldier who had taunted leftist activists in the occupied West Bank.

Ultra-nationalist Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir criticized the 10-day confinement handed down to a soldier who was filmed on Friday warning pro-Palestinian activists in the flashpoint city of Hebron: "Ben-Gvir will sort this place out."

Ben-Gvir, to whom Netanyahu has promised the post of national security minister, with expanded powers over police in the West Bank, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the sentence was too harsh and weakened soldiers' resolve.

He also appeared in a video together with the soldier's father, demanding that the army review the punishment and drawing apparent criticism from Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

"We will not allow intervention by any politician, left or right, in commanders' decisions, nor use of the military to promote a political agenda," Kohavi told the soldier's battalion and brigade commanders in a telephone call, the military said on Twitter.

In his turn, Ben-Gvir, also on Twitter, accused Kohavi of making inappropriate political statements and said he had no intention of intervening in the commanders' punitive measures but demanded a change in policy.

The criticism drew rebuke from Israeli leaders. President Isaac Herzog at a memorial service said moral debates were important but that "We must not drag the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) into the political field."

Netanyahu called on Twitter for Israel's conscript military to be "left out of any political argument".

On Friday, his Likud party said it had reached agreements on cabinet posts with the Jewish Power after a Nov. 1 saw the joint list of far-right factions soar to third place in parliament.

The ascent of Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler whose record includes 2007 convictions for incitement against Arabs and support for a Jewish militant group on the Israeli and U.S. terrorist watchlists, has stirred concern at home and abroad.

Ben-Gvir, a lawyer, says his positions have become more moderate. They include expulsion for those he deems terrorists or traitors - rather than all Arabs - and looser open-fire regulations for troops facing Palestinian unrest.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)