Don't Wait Until the Last Week

Complaints against candidates for a top position should be examined a year ahead of an appointment, as they are in the appointment process of less senior officers - not in the last week.

On Thursday afternoon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was in his Tel Aviv office, adjacent to the offices of Israel Radio. When news came of the fire threatening Damon Prison, he decided to go to the area, given that the Israel Prison Service falls under his authority.

Aharonovitch traveled north and discovered that he was the first senior political figure at the firefighting command post set up at the University of Haifa. And so, although the official responsible for the fire services is the interior minister, who did not visit the area for several more days, Aharonovitch took command of the firefighting operations.

Even before the disaster in the Carmel, Aharonovitch had wanted the Israel Fire and Rescue Services to come under the jurisdiction of the Public Security Ministry. Maj. Gen. Shimon Koren, commander of the Northern District of the police, was considered the leading candidate to head the fire services. Aharonovitch and Koren never imagined they would met in Haifa under such terrible circumstances.

Aharonovitch's original plan that day, to announce the name of his pick for police commissioner, was stymied by a tardy query asking the state comptroller whether he had any problematic files relating to any of the candidates for the job. Thus appeared the stain on one of the two finalists, Yohanan Danino, as well as on the appointment process itself. Complaints about candidates for top posts have become like roadside bombs threatening to derail them; even if they are saved from the shrapnel, they still come out covered in grime.

The claims against Danino, like those against the outgoing police commissioner, David Cohen, have been aired for years now by former officers Yisrael Abarbanel and Simon Perry, who were passed over for promotion to brigadier general and retired with the rank of commander. The fact that the complaints are coming from them is not reason enough to refrain from investigating candidates for top cop, but it is also not reason enough to determine that such an investigation should have any effect on whether they are ultimately appointed.

By chance, Danino testified before the State Comptroller's Office on the day the High Court of Justice decided to deliver the Abergil brothers to American justice.

Perry was posted to Washington as police attache and liaison officer to the United States and Canada in 2005 and 2006, when police were investigating the Domino Effect, as they referred to the case against these suspected crime bosses. He sought to command the Serious and International Crime Unit on his return and bombarded Danino and Amichai Shai, the brigadier general who headed the unit, with memos and phone calls about the case.

Shai, who is now a major general and commander of the police force's personnel department, was not a fan of Danino, who had preceded him in the position and who became his superior as head of investigations and intelligence. Shai, who is seven years older than Danino, has an entirely different style from him and has no reason to protect Danino. All the same, he found nothing wrong with Danino's actions in the Domino Effect case.

What Perry could not see from across the sea were the complexities of indecision in the system, including in the State Prosecutor's Office, whose approval is needed for plea bargains with felons who agree to testify against even bigger felons.

Errors in judgment or priorities are not as bad as the murder of police sources, incidents that may or may not have to do with the actions or failures of district commanders like Cohen (who aren't necessarily familiar with every police source in their districts ) or department heads like Danino (who are supposed to provide professional guidance for various investigation and intelligence units in the force ).

Who understands that better than Aharonovitch, a veteran police officer and one who came away unscathed by the Zeiler committee, which looked into his conduct as a major general in the Southern District. The latest accusations should not affect his decision about who should be police chief. And if, as he has apparently decided, his choice is Maj. Gen. Shahar Ayalon, then nothing about the affair should disqualify Danino from being appointed deputy police commissioner, a post he might now consider so as not to retire as an investigation is underway. The Domino Effect case should not be a reason to bring down several officers.

Complaints against candidates for a top position should be examined a year ahead of an appointment, as they are in the appointment process of less senior officers - not in the last week. Aharonovitch should take this lesson to heart as he prepares, even more energetically than before the Carmel disaster, to appoint a senior officer in the Israel Prison Service as its new commissioner.