aharonovitch - Motti Kimche - December 3 2010
Aharonovitch (center) and Ayalon (right). Photo by Motti Kimche
Text size

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was embarrassed Wednesday in front of the president, senior policemen who had donned skullcaps for Hanukkah candle-lighting, and indeed a whole country, when the plan to announce his candidate for the next police commissioner in a live broadcast was put on hold.

When Aharonovitch himself competed for the top police post in 2004 and was passed over, he would have swallowed the affront if another candidate from his generation had been chosen. It galled him that the responsible minister at the time, Tzachi Hanegbi, skipped a generation and picked Moshe Karadi. This week, when Aharonovitch consulted with former public security ministers, he ignored Hanegbi.

When Avigdor Lieberman, head of Aharonovitch's party, Yisrael Beiteinu, was disqualified as a candidate for public security minister - a portfolio promised to a member of the party - and the post was given instead to Aharonovitch, it was a rare opportunity for the latter to enjoy a corrective experience. Yet, when he awoke Sunday morning to the announcement of the forced withdrawal of Uri Bar-Lev from the race for commissioner, he, like Hanegbi before him, was tempted to skip a generation, or half a generation, and appoint Maj. Gen. Yohanan Danino, despite the offense this would cause another candidate: Shahar Ayalon, a veteran officer on the force who had already served as deputy commissioner.

Accordingly, the minister checked with the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, and the state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss - or at least thought that's what he was doing - whether there was anything that was liable to prevent Danino's appointment.

In the current atmosphere, with everyone waiting for the High Court of Justice to rule on the petitions against the appointment of Yoav Galant as the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the assumption is that someone would also petition the High Court against Danino's appointment. Then it turned out that the state comptroller is actually still investigating Danino's involvement in some affair.

Meanwhile, Lieberman himself is waiting for Weinstein to decide whether to close the file against him (very unlikely ), try him on a charge of bribery (not very likely ) or indict him on counts that seem less serious - money laundering, fraud - even though the penalty for them is as stiff as for bribery (most likely ). Any sort of indictment will force Lieberman to resign from the government, and to decide whether to take his ministers, including Aharonovitch, with him as well.

The decision on Lieberman, if it's not delayed by the state prosecutors' strike, is likely to be made in about two weeks. It has nothing to do with the police commissioner, whether the incumbent or candidate. From Lieberman's point of view, the top cop story is old news, and the head of the Police Investigations Branch is an item from the day before yesterday. The person who should now probably be of interest to the minister is the prison service commissioner.

Climbing ladders

When the excitement over the police commissioner's appointment fades - and if Aharonovitch survives the vicissitudes of politics and remains in office - some sort of revision will be needed in regard to the relationship between the police and the defense establishment, which views the force as its stepchild. The police separated from the IDF upon the state's establishment, and afterward absorbed into its ranks the Frontier Corps, which became the Border Police and was reunited with the IDF after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and in particular in the wake of the failed operation to rescue the hostages taken by terrorists in Ma'alot the following year. A committee of inquiry was appointed at the time under the chairmanship of one of the members of the present-day Turkel committee, which is investigating the Gaza flotilla events, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Amos Horev.

The transfer of public-security powers from the IDF to the Israel Police, according to the Horev committee's recommendations, had long-term ramifications, among them the recruitment of combat officers - such as Assaf Hefetz and Shahar Ayalon - in order to create the special police SWAT unit Yamam and move from there to other units of the police and Border Police, eventually reaching the top rank of commissioner. As an organization, the Israel Police felt a sense of inferiority to the IDF, until police investigators found themselves wallowing recently in the muck of the Boaz Harpaz affair.

In 2007, because of two inquiry committees headed by retired judges (the Winograd committee in the case of the IDF's conduct in the Second Lebanon War and, concurrently, the Zeiler panel, in regard to the police ), the resignations of Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Commissioner Karadi occurred simultaneously. This accounts for the confluence of appointments of the chief of staff who will succeed Gabi Ashkenazi and of the commissioner who will take over for David Cohen.

If we add to these a rash of other appointments - of Aviv Kochavi as the new director of Military Intelligence, following the retirement of Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin last week; of Tamir Pardo as the new head of the Mossad this week; and of MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) as the new chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - the impression is that a new security team is beginning to take shape. But this would be a false impression: Despite the operational cooperation, the ties between the various organizations - and their chiefs - are not all that close.

Pardo is the second Mossad head that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed. The first, Efrain Halevy, in 1998, was, exactly like Pardo, a former deputy chief of the agency. Only in two exceptional and successive instances in the history of the Mossad, both in the 1980s, did the deputy move up to the top job from within: Nahum Admoni, the deputy of Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi, was appointed after Maj. Gen. Yekutiel Adam, who had been preferred over him, was killed in Lebanon; Shabtai Shavit, second in line under Admoni on the eve of the latter's retirement, was appointed because the decision was made by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir - himself a former senior Mossad figure, and a consistent advocate of appointments from within, as distinct from IDF generals.

The logic of preferring generals for the Mossad, like the appointment of directors of Military Intelligence from other branches (Kochavi, Yadlin and most of their predecessors ), lies in the desire to have these bodies headed by "consumers" of intelligence, not those who produce it. The police and the Shin Bet security service, citing the need for professional know-how that is accumulated in the years of climbing the internal ladder, have succeeded better than MI and the Mossad in preventing "imports" - apart from one major general, Herzl Shafir, in the police, and an admiral, Ami Ayalon, as head of the Shin Bet.

These organizations do not sit at one table with one person at its head. They answer to four different cabinet ministers : the prime minister, the defense minister, the public security minister and the minister of the security services (MI, Mossad, Israel Atomic Energy Commission ), currently Dan Meridor, who does not intrude in the realms of the army or the police. The head of the National Security Council, Uzi Arad, who under the NSC Law is supposed to receive all the intelligence material that is transmitted to the prime minister, has to wage a constant battle to retain his powers, as well as his close relationship to Netanyahu.

The closest oversight of these is by the State Comptroller's Office and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The head of the security unit in the State Comptroller's Office, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yaacov Or, burrows his way into the innards of the security services with the help of a small staff of former MI personnel and other units. The subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, previously headed by Tzachi Hanegbi and henceforth by Mofaz, includes only individuals who have served as foreign minister (Tzipi Livni ) or defense minister (Amir Peretz ), finance minister (Roni Bar-On ), or who have held senior posts in the Shin Bet (Avi Dichter, Yisrael Hasson, Gideon Ezra ). In contrast to ministers, they have time on their hands and meet for hours of deep briefings. A two-person committee - consisting of the heads of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and of the State Control Committee - reads the most secret reports of Lindenstrauss and Or.

This is all a very complicated business, and it has no manager.

Five years ago, the U.S. administration had to devise a new position of head of its intelligence community, which until then had been an extra job of the director of the CIA. A former ambassador, John Negroponte, was appointed the first director of national intelligence. In a meeting with Maj. Gen. Yadlin, then Israel's military attache in Washington and the MI chief-designate, Negroponte asked him, ahead of a visit to Israel, who his Israeli counterpart as overseer of intelligence matters was. "A heavyset, white-haired man," Yadlin said - Ariel Sharon.

If the prime minister is ostensibly managing one of these realms, this is tantamount to no one managing it. This week that was made clear to everyone.