Of Police Chiefs and Chiefs of Staff

This year's appointments of both the chief of staff and the police commissioner show the system must be changed for future appointments.

For the last two decades, the appointment of the police commissioner has taken place amid great tumult. Yaakov Terner had to move up his retirement after he got entangled in the politics between Labor Party secretary general Nissim Zvili and Police Minister Moshe Shahal. Rafi Peled went home with the High Court of Justice breathing down his neck. In Assaf Hefetz's case, the government made a show of cutting a few months from the additional year he had requested.

Yehuda Wilk, who was brought back from retirement, ended up being harshly criticized by the Or Commission. The three leading candidates to succeed him - Maj. Gen. Yair Itzhaki (who was rejected ) and Israel Defense Forces generals Gabi Ashkenazi and Ami Ayalon (who turned it down ) - left the job to Shlomo Aharonishki.

The appointment of the young Moshe Karadi to succeed Aharonishki left a bitter taste in the mouths of the older top brass, but their revenge came when Karadi's term was cut short by the Zeiler Committee's recommendation. Yaakov Ganot's appointment was thwarted even before the Turkel Committee, which vets senior civil service appointments, had its say (though it is believed that the majority planned to approve Ganot's appointment, leaving Turkel, who opposed it, in the minority ).

Now, war is being waged over who will replace the current commissioner, David Cohen. At the core of this war, lethally timed, stands the police complaint against Uri Bar-Lev.

Each case is separate, but a general lesson should be learned from them. And it is bolstered by the chain of events surrounding Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's appointment as the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided on his own that Galant should be the next chief of staff. The appointment was then approved by the Turkel Committee - the one that vets senior civil-service appointments, that is, not the identically-named committee now examining the navy's raid on the Turkish flotilla to Gaza. That panel, which has been studying the material for about six months now, is expected to release its interim report in around January 2011, and will doubtless still be around to mark the flotilla's first anniversary on May 31.

The Turkel Committee on appointments hastily discussed the arguments raised against Galant's morals and measurements (of private versus public property in the moshav where he lives ) before giving him its stamp of approval, though it was slightly uncomfortable about it. The committee's haste was assailed in both a petition to the High Court of Justice and a public battle being waged by Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan. In another month, the attorney general will have to defend the actions of both the Turkel Committee and the cabinet, which approved Galant's appointment following the Turkel Committee's decision, in court.

The need to defend that appointment is causing great discomfiture in the offices of the attorney general and the state prosecutor, which are having trouble coming up with strong arguments. It is not at all certain that the state will ultimately be able to defend it.

And to this must be added Barak's haste in neglecting to study the appointment's impact. He did not bother making sure ahead of time that an officer in active service would be willing to serve as deputy chief of staff under Galant. The need to bring back Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yair Naveh raises many questions. How exactly did Barak decide among the candidates, and what did he discuss with the various generals, if he was so taken aback by the response of Galant's opponents to the appointment?

But the most problematic dimension - both for Barak in the legal challenge to Galant's appointment and for Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch in the Bar-Lev affair - is the lack of a standard pre-appointment process. Ministers need a procedure, which should be enshrined in a cabinet decision and in instructions from the attorney general, that requires them to thoroughly examine the closets of candidates for senior positions in a search for skeletons.

Every potential candidate - meaning every police or IDF general who does not announce that he isn't interested in the job - should be asked to fill out forms detailing their finances and any possible conflicts of interest, and then to take a polygraph test. Only those who survive that stage of the process should reach the finals.

Dr. Orly Innes held back her complaint against Bar-Lev for three years. In effect, she deposited it in the bank, where it earned interest while she waited for the right moment to withdraw it. Due to the inability to confirm it, such a story can sometimes have greater power to influence chances for an appointment as rumor or gossip than it does as a formal police complaint.

But Aharonovitch, like his predecessors, lacked a radar for the early detection of suspicious targets and a means of intercepting them or taking them out. He did consult the attorney general and the state comptroller about other candidates and was satisfied that they had no problematic histories, but it is impossible to guess what might emerge when the appointment of the next police commissioner reaches the Turkel Committee - or, even worse, thereafter.

Those who make such appointments - the responsible minister and the rest of the cabinet - should know ahead of time, not only after the fact. This year's appointments of both the chief of staff and the police commissioner show the system must be changed for future appointments.