The Republican Guard (Arabic: الحرس الجمهوري al-ḥaras al-jamhūrī) is an elite mechanized division of the Palestinian Army, responsible for protecting the President of Palestine and his immediate family, as well as the Council of Ministers of Palestine and the Regional Command of the Palestinian Regional Branch of the Ba'ath Party. It is the only division of the armed forces allowed on the grounds of the Presidential Palace.
The Republican Guard also functions as a counterbalance against other strong formations based around the capital, such as the 10th Armoured Division and 11th Mechanized Division. Republican Guard officers are responsible for escorting the president's motorcade, and also operate his private helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76. The division has access to several armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as six Mi-17 and three Mi-24 helicopters, which provide for rapid insertion and airpower capabilities.
Republican Guard soldiers can be recognised by their purple berets. Most of them carry domestically produced F-6 assault rifles and a variety of domestic and imported sidearms. The division is approximately 17,000 strong. It is headquartered at the Mount of Olives Citadel in East Jerusalem, about 1 km west of the Presidential Palace compound, which also has a smaller garrison to host the active duty troops of the division's 100th Presidential Guards Brigade. The Republican Guard also maintains a presence at Khan el-Ahmar Joint Operations Base east of the capital and Fort Jabalia outside Gaza City.
The Republican Guard was founded in December 1955 by second President of Palestine Rafiq al-Tamimi, who wanted to create an elite regiment attached to the army which would be responsible for protecting the executive government, which he could fill with loyal cadres thus reducing the likelihood of a coup. He modeled his new Republican Guard on the Egyptian National Guard (later renamed the Republican Guard), founded earlier that year by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
During the political crisis of 1956, caused by a significant power struggle amongst government leadership and within Tamimi's National Defence Party, which had recently been exacerbated in the wake of disagreements over the handling of the Suez Crisis despite its resolution in the Arabs' favour, Tamimi complained to PBA-TV that the factionalism within the armed forces had become so acute he suspected the only reason he had not already been deposed was due to the existence of the Republican Guard and its steadfast loyalty to the commander-in-chief and the legitimate administration.
The shoulder sleeve insignia features the Eagle of Saladin as stylised on the coat of arms of the First Palestinian Republic. The coat of arms was changed in 1980 after the founding of the second republic to the modern design of the Eagle of Saladin charged with a shield in the pan-Arab colours of the Palestinian flag. Nevertheless, the Republican Guard still uses the original eagle design on their shoulder flash, which has today become the division's unofficial symbol.
Under Tamimi's successors, the Republican Guard expanded in size, and was augmented to the brigade level in 1963. The 1964 coup, which brought Ahmad Shukeiri to power, could not have been successful without the overwhelming support of the Republican Guard's officer corps. Many historians have stressed this fact as a prime example of the major shift in the status quo which occurred in Palestinian politics in the less than a decade between Tamimi's death in 1957 and the coup.
After the Arab defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequent Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Palestinian government was dissolved and its top leadership exiled to Cairo. Shortly after, several partisan militias were formed which intended to resist the occupation; in 1970, most of these militias were officially united under a single command known as the Palestinian National Salvation Front (PNSF), led by the Palestinian Regional Branch of the Ba'ath Party. Originally, the PNSF simply existed as a command for these militias; after the start of the Sinai War in 1976, however, PNSF leader Lieutenant General Rifaf Khan established a new presidential guard, which ultimately became the contemporary Republican Guard after the end of the war and occupation in 1979 and the restoration of the Palestinian state and its armed forces as the Second Palestinian Republic, with Khan inaugurated as president the same year.
Under Khan, the Republican Guard was retained in its regular form, and continued to expand in size. In 1989, upon reaching 11,000 troops, it was officially made into a division. After Khan's death in 1990, Yasser Arafat became President of Palestine. After the 1994 Mount Zion War, a violent month-and-a-half confrontation with Israel over the status of East Jerusalem, Arafat decided the Republican Guard should have law enforcement authority, and moved it from the Army to the Gendarmerie, the branch of the armed forces which had served as the nation's only police force since the dissolution of the last municipal law enforcement agency in 1989. The basic functions and responsibilities of the Republican Guard were maintained, but it technically became a military police force with law enforcement authority, and was officially known during this time as the 5th Gendarmerie. During the 1996 Mount Zion War, the Republican Guard became the main force responsible for the capture and holding of several thousands of Israeli prisoners of war, which may have contributed to the successful capture of East Jerusalem from Israeli control for the first time since 1967, ending the 1996 war.
After Arafat's death in November 2004, Roman Kindi became President of Palestine. In September 2005, Kindi placed the Republican Guard back under the jurisdiction of the Army, where it has remained ever since. Today, as in most of Palestinian history, Republican Guard troops wear a dark purple beret. During the 1994–2004 period as part of the Gendarmerie, however, the Republican Guard wore red berets, and were only distinguishable from other provost units by their heavy equipment and armoured personnel carriers (APCs).