Yohanan Danino (Tomer Appelbaum)
Yohanan Danino Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Maj. Gen. Yohanan Danino, commander of the Southern District police, will be Israel's 17th national police commissioner. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch announced the appointment on Sunday, earlier than expected, in a bid to end the tempest in the top ranks of the Israel Police that began when another favorite candidate, Uri Bar-Lev, took himself out of the running and left active duty over allegations of rape and sexual harassment.

Danino is expected to assume his new post in May 2011.

"Danino is a veteran officer with a wealth of varied operational and investigative experience. The choice constitutes an absolute vote of confidence in the commanding ranks of the Israel Police," Aharonovitch said on Sunday.

Danino's appointment still needs to be approved by the committee for senior appointments in the public service. In the meantime, the Public Security Ministry is gearing up for the possibility of petitions to the High Court of Justice against the decision.

The State Comptroller's Office is reviewing Danino's role in two botched police operations, one relating to the murder of two police informers in 2006, and the other involving allegedly delayed action taken against reputed organized crime kingpins Meir and Yitzhak Abergil.

Last week Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that Danino's appointment could proceed despite the ongoing review of his conduct.

Battling Danino for the top job were Tel Aviv District Commander Shahar Ayalon and Deputy Police Commissioner Ilan Franco. All three were summoned to meet with Aharonovitch on Sunday morning. One after the other, each candidate entered the ministry in Jerusalem, smiling but tense, and refusing to talk to the media crush awaiting them. Each was instructed to leave his cell phone outside the minister's office, to prevent the identity of the next commissioner from being revealed before the official announcement. Danino said after the announcement that he did not even know he would be selected before the meeting.

Aharonovitch, himself a candidate for the job a few years ago, purposely picked a veteran of the force and chose not - as his own predecessors did in recent years - to opt for a young major general from the ranks or to bring in someone from outside.

Some police officials believed that Aharonovitch, an MK from Yisrael Beiteinu, would take the "easier" route, in political terms, and not appoint Danino, who led the aggressive criminal investigation against the head of his party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. But Aharonovitch demonstrated yesterday that his choice was based purely on professional considerations.

He is expected to repeat this performance within a few days by tapping someone from within the Israel Prison Service for the top job there, for the first time in many years, rather than following the recent tradition of taking someone from the IDF or the Israel Police.

After hearing the news on Sunday, Danino immediately went out to celebrate his promotion with his family. In the ministry parking lot he bumped into Police Commissioner David Cohen, who told the media, with a smile, that he had ordered Danino not to give interviews.