Chad Gadya in the Police Force

At first glance, the tale is a simple one, a police version of Chad Gadya: Come the commissioner and beat the major general, come the minister and beat the commissioner down.

In this battle there is but one loser, Police Commissioner David Cohen, who strove to remove Major General Uri Bar Lev from the police service and instead now has to put up with the decision of the new Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to keep Bar Lev in the force and send him as the police representative to Washington. In doing so, Aharonovitch pressed Cohen's back to the wall and opened a yet-to-be settled account.

It may well be that Cohen will leave this battle without his uniform; but Aharonovitch will not escape unscathed, because the framing of the story in the public is already shifting. It's not longer "Cohen vs. Bar Lev," rather "who is putting himself on the line to resist the attempts of the suspect, Avigdor Lieberman, to take over the police."

There are two David Cohens in this story. One went too far in his efforts to force the police officer corps to accept his candidates for various posts, held former public security minister Avi Dichter so close that both their reputations were shattered, took a genuine risk by making harsh statements at the Supreme Court about Bar Lev, and suffered a desperate blow in Aharonovitch's order. The other David Cohen unflinchingly defended for over a year the police investigators looking into the cases that made Olmert a former prime minister. A resignation by the first Cohen will be admittance of defeat. A resignation by the second Cohen, coupled with his frequent warnings about Lieberman's use or misuse of Yisrael Beitenu MK Aharonovitch, will enhance his position as the general of the war against elected officials' corruption.

Cohen made some bad misjudgments, both in his going to town over Bar Lev and in putting forward the explosive formula of "either him or me." Cohen emphasized his willingness to comply with the minister's decision, a marked contrast to Bar-Lev's unwillingness to comply with the commissioner's authority (a fairly simulated unwillingness, since Bar Lev only refused to "got away for studies" without the definition of his future role).

The next few days will see fire diverted from Bar Lev towards Lieberman and his erstwhile delegate, Aharonovitch.

Extravagant waste

The police attache in Washington (also representing the Prison Service and the public security ministry as a whole) works mainly with the investigative and intelligence units, and has little direct interaction with his commander, the commissioner. To create the space for Bar Lev without evicting current attache Brigadier General Efi Tibi after only two years in residence, the latter will be equipped with a new office in New York; this reflects the opinion that America is big enough to contain three Israeli police generals (including the one in the West Coast consulate in Los Angeles).

Previous attaches, including Aharonovitch himself, successfully coped with criminal activity in the two nations from their Washington office, with enough spare time to cover Canada as well. The establishment of Homeland Security in the American administration and its definition as parallel to the Israeli public security ministry did not change the essentials of the situation on the ground.

The reopening of the New York position (a police representative used to sit there in the quarters of the Defense Ministry's purchasing delegation), will be an extravagant wastage of tens of thousands of precious dollars, whatever benefits the personal connection and on-the-ground intelligence may hold. NYPD already has an attache of its own in the American embassy in Tel Aviv, alongside delegates from the FBI and the office of the Attorney General.

Bar Lev escaped the somewhat unlikely possibility that the Supreme Court of Justice will not take his side. He will miss the next round of major appointments in the service, but as far as he is concerned, the important thing here is his perseverance within the system, with good odds to become the commissioner in the next round or the one after that.

Cohen is in the meanwhile running an obstacle course: Bar Lev, the idea of municipal police, and two affairs outside his control - a Supreme Court decision in a case served against him by embittered Brigadier Generals, along with a harsh report by the State Comptroller on police affairs. Timing-wise, he might just as well stage a protest resignation as soon as the Lieberman investigation is completed and a recommendation to indict is served.

And it might well be that Cohen, bruised as he will be by the Supreme Court, will hold back for a few more months, until the Attorney General's final decision on Lieberman - because if Lieberman will force Aharonovitch to withdraw from government with him, a new minister will come to blow the sails of the police wars.