The Appointment / The Accidental Commissioner

In one thing, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter succeeded like in the old days: in secrecy. Major General David Cohen emerged from a meeting with Dichter several days ago with a good feeling, but no certainty that he would be the next Police Commissioner. He hoped and kept the secret until five in the afternoon yesterday. After all, no appointment is final until it is officially announced - and sometimes even that is not certain.

Dichter sent the director of his ministry, Ra'anan Falk, to offer Major General Shahar Ayalon the position of deputy commissioner. Even if he does not admit it, he was disappointed. He was very close to the top job. Ofer Dekel, Dichter's deputy in the Shin Bet, was one of those recommending that Ayalon receive the top appointment, and the secret contest was very close indeed.

From the point of view of Dichter, who considers the position of deputy commissioner as a necessary stepping stone to the top job, Ayalon now becomes the leading candidate to take over from Cohen, even though it is not likely that he will be in a position to appoint another commissioner. If he takes the job and is in office by May 1, Ayalon, who was an Olympic athlete, will be a world record holder in the triple jump: in a month, holidays included, he jumped from heading the Traffic Police, to commanding the Northern Police District, to being deputy commissioner.

The Cohen appointment proves that in the pocket of each policeman sits the whistle of a commissioner. The preference of a specific major general over half a dozen other competitors is the result of a series of circumstances and not the inevitable rise of one above the others. Only two months ago, Cohen was still considered by Dichter, if at all, as no more than the number three man in the police: Yaakov Ganot and Mickey Levy were presented as the pair who would fulfill the police dreams. But Dichter found himself embroiled in a lost cause over Ganot's appointment, shackled himself with his early commitment to Ganot and said he would not appoint Levy if Ganot was not approved by the committee on senior appointments to the civil service. Pushing Cohen up over Levy, as was to be expected, has led to Levy's decision to retire.

In one sense, Cohen is the Shaul Mofaz of the police: like Mofaz, who quickly went through four posts in the rank of major general, Cohen filled four posts in that rank in a few years. And like Mofaz, who benefited from external upsets that resulted in the insistence that Major Generals Matan Vilnai and Uzi Dayan not be appointed to the post of police commissioner, Cohen's position was boosted by the obstacles in the path of the police district commanders - David Tzur and Ilan Franco - as a result of the Benny Sela fiasco and the Zeiler Committee report, respectively.

In such circumstances, which establish an atmosphere of low expectations, Cohen is guaranteed success - at least relative success. His first task, and there is no reason he should fail in it, will be to stabilize the force following the shock of the forced retirement of Police Chief Moshe Karadi, his deputy Benny Kaniak, Tzur and possibly other major generals such as Franco. He will have to make important appointments, among them to the command in three districts: Tel Aviv, the Northern and the Central - and possibly also in Jerusalem. If Major General Uri Bar-Lev, one of those seriously disappointed by the rotations, moves to Tel Aviv, Cohen will need to find a commander for the southern district. There are also vacant, or soon to be vacant, positions of heads of departments - manpower, logistics, and even a new department for training.

Cohen can promote a number of brigadier generals, and leading among them is the head of the unit investigating major crimes, usually with international connections, Amihai Shai. Cohen and Shai share a view of the police's needs since the days Shai was in charge of a platoon during the officers training course Cohen headed. Both Cohen and Shai support the establishment in Israel of an organization akin to the FBI. Recently, Cohen said that soon the police will have to establish such a force, one that will unite all the national investigation units. As a Commissioner of Police he is likely to carry this out.

Officers who have served with or under Cohen have divided opinions of the man. A small minority does not take his skills seriously, but the vast majority supports his appointment. Among his supporters, Cohen has two major advantages: background and style. He knows the police from the bottom up, having "walked the beat," and proving to be a diligent manager, emphasizing procedures, ensuring that things get done and dealing with details. At the national police headquarters, as he did in the Central District, Cohen will set clear standards for success - which will be measured by a drop in all criminal activities.

Cohen will target the criminal organizations, which he considers to emanate from the area under the control of the Central Police District. He has brought to bear all methods and units to counter these, but as usual, he is leaving the post before his success can be measured. The Israeli citizen wants law and order and cares little about whose name is on the badge.