Public Security Minister Names Border Police Commander as Police Chief Nominee

In open letter to Israel Police, Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen says that it is 'an open secret' opportunities to appoint new chief were not lacking, but 'outside influence' intervened

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Deputy Commissioner Kobi Shabtai in 2018
Deputy Commissioner Kobi Shabtai in 2018Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana announced Tuesday that he is recommending that Border Police commander, Maj. Gen. Kobi Shabtai, be appointed police commissioner.

Shabtai, 56, was not considered a frontrunner for the position in past weeks, and the recommendation comes as a surprise.

The appointment is dependent on approval for the committee for senior appointments and from the cabinet.

Shabtai has commanded the Border Police for the past four years, and it is his first role as major general. He has not served as a district commander, which is considered a gateway position in the Israel Police. Despite this, he has extensive command experience, and Ohana was impressed at his handling of the Sharon region, one of the police's largest, among other things.

In an open letter to the Israel Police, Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen said that following Ohana's announcement, he will be leaving the police.

Cohen, who has served for about two years in the temporary position, said that it is "an open secret" that there have been many opportunities over the course of his tenure to appoint a commissioner

"There are many senior officers in the Israel Police that are suited to continue and lead the organization and to create stability with their strength," he wrote.

"It seems the decision not to appoint a permanent commissioner for such a lengthy period of time was not without outside influence," Cohen continued.

He added that in addition to the challenges of the job, he had to deal with a new sort of challenge: "attempts to intervene in the work of the Israel police. Intervention that has no place in the organization and that I did not allow."

According to Cohen, "Right before my eyes, there is always the need to safeguard the independence of the police. Therefore, I did everything in my power to curb these attempts to intervene and to keep the police clean from all outside considerations." 

Attorney General Avichai Mendeblit instructed Ohana last week to choose a candidate for commissioner to bring before the appointments committee by the end of the month. Mendelblit made the request after the High Court of Justice instructed that Ohana do so.

Shabtai's appointment may not be easily approved due to two incidents from his past role as Sharon regional commander. In one incident, there are claims that he illegally set up an event space for officers on the rooftop of the Sharon regional station in Kfar Sava without the necessary approvals.

One of the people who carried out the construction was a friend of Shabtai, who according to reports did so without a tender. The Justice Ministry did not open an investigation into the incident.

In the other case, which was recently reported on by the Kan public broadcaster, Shabtai instructed a police officer in an intelligence position to hand over classified police information to a retired commissioner who is now in a senior position at a car rental company.

Investigators in the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct recommended opening an investigation into the incident, but the unit's manager declined to do so. The manager, Bar Menachem, said that the case should be investigated within the police.