Israel Police Have Failed to Quell Organized Crime This Decade, Minister Says

But the cops will soon have ‘equilibrium-shattering capabilities’ against crime families, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch pledges.

Yaniv Kubovich
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Police inspecting the scene of an attempted assassination of underworld kingpin Nissim Alperon, June 2012. Credit: Alon Ron
Yaniv Kubovich

Outgoing Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch admitted Sunday that the police made no real gains against organized crime during his six years in office.

“With organized crime, we have a problem with everything connected to intelligence,” he said in a parting interview with Haaretz. “We haven’t managed to produce achievements.”

Still, he insisted, the changes made during his tenure will soon bring results.

“We’ve now invested 100 million shekels [$26 million]. We’ve recruited officers from the army, the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad,” he said.

“We’ve set up a SIGINT [signals intelligence] and cyber network that I believe will produce achievements similar to those of the Shin Bet and Mossad within two years. We’ll reach a situation where we thwart crimes before they happen. The police will have equilibrium-shattering capabilities against organized crime.”

Yitzhak Aharonovitch attending a Public Security Ministry event last year.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

This new prowess should also be used to handle demonstrations, Aharonovitch argued.

“The fact that there’s a protest by demonstrators in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and we don’t know who’s organizing it and who’s taking responsibility for the people there, is a problem,” he said, referring to the recent protests by Ethiopian Israelis. “We didn’t know who was leading it, what they wanted or how many would come, even though today everything is on the social networks.”

The police are currently finalizing a Tel Aviv map marked with the locations of all security cameras — a move Aharonovitch, a former deputy police commissioner, applauds.

“I said I want all of Tel Aviv’s streets covered with a network of security cameras,” he said. “I want cameras in the banks, schools, businesses — everywhere it’s possible to put a camera that will film the street.”

Early last week, Aharonovitch was present at the Ethiopian-Israeli demonstration in Tel Aviv that turned violent. He himself was hit in the head with a bottle thrown by a protester.

“In all my years [in the police], I never saw a demonstration with such force,” he said. “It was a war. They came to cause problems.”

Tel Aviv police chief Bentzi Sau “told me he wanted to allow them to let off some steam. But when he saw policemen coming in wounded, he told me, ‘Mr. Minister, I have to start dispersing them,’” Aharonovitch said.

“I think I would have done so much earlier, when they were still on the Ayalon,” Aharonovitch added, referring to the protesters’ blockage of Tel Aviv’s main highway. “But Bentzi thought otherwise, and I respect that.”

Aharonovitch said he briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly throughout the demonstration, and won Netanyahu’s permission to offer the protesters a meeting with senior officials from all government agencies to discuss their demands.

“At first, the possibility was raised that this come after the new government was formed, with the new ministers, but I thought it was right to do it the very next day after the demonstration, because this would give them hope that things were starting to move,” he said. “I’m glad my opinion was accepted and the meeting took place.”

Aharonovitch is the longest-serving public security minister in the two decades since that ministry replaced the Police Ministry. But he will be remembered largely for the police’s poor image during this term.

The major scandals during his tenure included the dismissal of several senior officers for sexually harassing subordinates, a foul-up by a police hotline that wasted hours in the search for three kidnapped teens last June, and numerous incidents of police brutality.

But the most scathing criticism of Aharonovitch has actually come from within, mainly from Commissioner Yohanan Danino and officers close to him. Danino says the minister was too involved in police affairs, especially the appointment of senior officers — including officers who served under Aharonovitch during his days as deputy police commissioner.

Danino also loathed the minister’s habit of visiting crime scenes and talking with the officers present. Aharonovitch, in turn, has plenty of complaints about Danino.

Aharonovitch opposed Danino’s decision to set numerical targets for arrests and indictments, alleging that such numbers say nothing about the quality of policing and sometimes even discourage police from investigating cases too thoroughly.

He argued, for example, that mob hits pose a far more complex challenge than spousal murders, so it’s misleading to include them in the same statistics.

Aharonovitch also accused Danino of often leaving him out of the loop about his contacts with Knesset members and other ministers.

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