Picking the Top Cop - Back to Plan A

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was to have celebrated one of the high points of his career today - announcing his choice for police commissioner. Instead, he finds himself in an embarrassing position.

The preface to the story, which has nothing to do with Aharonovitch, began exactly three and a half years before Aharonovitch's meeting with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on November 15 of this year.

On May 15, 2007, a newspaper that frequently attacked Lindenstrauss and defended then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reported that Yohanan Danino had asked the state prosecutor and the police commissioner to open an investigation of Lindenstrauss "for obstructing a sensitive police investigation." Lindenstrauss was insulted, and all of Danino's denials did him no good.

At that time, Danino was head of the intelligence and investigations branch, and was mainly known for closing cases against prime ministers, a reputation he earned in former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Greek island case. Olmert's supporters thus wanted to use him against Lindenstrauss. That was almost a year before the opening of multiple criminal investigations against Olmert, which put Danino on Lindenstrauss' side of the game.

But for the last two years, Danino has been commander of the police's Southern District. The people there like him, he has succeeded at his post and even impressed his minister. Aharonovitch saw him as one of the four major generals from whom he would pick the next commissioner.

Two of the four, Uri Bar-Lev and Ilan Franco, dropped out, leaving Danino and the commander of the Tel Aviv District, Shahar Ayalon.

On November 10, Public Security Ministry Director General Hagai Peleg quit due to sex-crime allegations. Similar allegations against Bar-Lev followed swiftly, removing him from the race.

Five days later, Aharonovitch came to Lindenstrauss' office to discuss various issues. Almost by the way, he asked the comptroller if he was investigating anything that could affect the appointment of any of the candidates for commissioner.

Lindenstrauss, who was about to leave for an international conference of state comptrollers in South Africa, promised to look into it.

Yesterday, the answer arrived: a murder of police informants that took place under Danino's watch as head of the investigations division. The incident is being probed by an internal team from the division, now headed by Danino's best friend in the police, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, and the police had asked the comptroller to hold off on his own investigation until they finished theirs. It is that delay that is now Danino's stumbling block.

It is not clear why the allegations in this case should stop Danino's appointment, if indeed that is Aharonovitch's intention. Worse allegations have been made on the same matter against the current commissioner, David Cohen. If the police probe, followed by the comptroller's, can proceed without overshadowing Cohen's tenure, why should they stop Danino's appointment?

On Sunday, Bar-Lev dropped out of the race, and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein allowed Aharonovitch to resume his search. But instead of waiting another day, until Lindenstrauss came back from South Africa, Aharonovitch began moving. For some reason, he thought the attorney general and the comptroller had approved the remaining candidates.

Only when Lindenstrauss returned on Monday evening and spoke with the minister did Aharonovitch hear for the first time that things were not so simple. The watchdog group Ometz then asked the minister to delay Danino's appointment, if Danino were indeed his choice.

Suddenly, the Bermuda Triangle between Aharonovitch, Weinstein and Lindenstrauss was reactivated. Suddenly, all three remembered to check. That was a late awakening. There are many files that need to be checked. And if they contain real bombshells, perhaps they should have led to someone being fired, not merely prevented his promotion. If they don't, the appointments should go forward.

This morning, Aharonovitch must return to his original plan and announce his choice: Ayalon or Danino. A communications short-out between the minister, the comptroller and the attorney general cannot lead to further delays.