Israel's Next Commissioner Must Not Turn Police Into Shin Bet

Alsheich is a skilled Shin Bet operative, but he has never himself engaged in police work, keeping the peace, fighting organized crime or uprooting corruption.

Haaretz Editorial
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Israel Police chief nominee Roni Alsheikh.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Haaretz Editorial

When a complex investigation by either the police or the Shin Bet security service hits a dead end, the top brass will sometimes decide to dissolve the designated investigative team and set up a new one, or assign a different leader with a fresh viewpoint to the original team. At first glance, that’s what Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is trying to do by appointing a police commissioner from outside the force.

But in deciding that the second person to be dubbed “the right person in the right place” – the term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to describe the previous candidate for commissioner, Gal Hirsch – should be deputy Shin Bet chief Roni Alsheich, Erdan once again ignored the fact that the fresh new leaders the police needs should also come from within the profession, even if not necessarily from the same unit, department or district.

Thwarting terror attacks via the methods available to the Shin Bet, which are denied to the police for legal and budgetary reasons, is liable to nurture fleeting illusions in someone entering an environment where he must deal with the gathering of admissible evidence for convictions and serving the public. Alsheich is a skilled Shin Bet operative, and his experience qualifies him to vie for the post of head of the Shin Bet. He also has some familiarity with the police’s work, mainly in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and especially with regard to intelligence and investigations of Palestinians.

But Alsheich has never himself engaged in police work, keeping the peace, fighting organized crime or uprooting corruption. To bring a fresh viewpoint to an organization that does all of these, Alsheich must first be familiar with the old viewpoint, develop tools for analyzing and changing the situation, and leave at the Shin Bet the tools that aren’t applicable to the police.

He will have to get used to the idea that the Israel Police doesn’t interrogate suspects without court orders, and cannot detain suspects for long periods without charges. The police operate in public places and are under constant scrutiny. They are always being photographed or taped by ordinary citizens, and such documentation can usually be published legally, which isn’t the case with the Shin Bet.

Also in contrast to the Shin Bet – or for that matter, the army and the Mossad, which answer, respectively, to the defense minister and prime minister - the police are more independent. They often have information they don’t pass on to the politicians, especially about undercover investigations. Alsheich will have to maintain the police’s independence even though his appointment was agreed on by Netanyahu and Erdan.

Most worrisome of all is the possibility that the motive for importing the police commissioner from an agency directly subordinate to Netanyahu is his desire to exert an influence, via the appointments to be made in the police’s investigative units, on the probe now being conducted into the goings-on at the prime minister's residences. Alsheich’s first mission, if his appointment is confirmed, must be to prove that he owes no personal loyalty to the politicians who gave him the job.

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