Two District Commanders to Vie for Top Police Job

With Bar-Lev out of the running, Aharonovitch's top picks are Shahar Ayalon and Yohanan Danino

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has narrowed the list of candidates for police chief to two senior police officials, Tel Aviv District commander Shahar Ayalon and Southern District commander Yohanan Danino. On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev announced that he was withdrawing as a candidate for the post after being accused of sexual offenses.

Ayalon's and Danino's prospects of securing the top police position appear even at this point. Aharonovitch intends to present top officers with his plan to reform the police and is looking for a successor to police chief David Cohen who will support his ideas. Aharonovitch's plan includes reducing the police hierarchy, stepping up enforcement in agriculture and increasing Border Police training to deal with civil disturbances.

Aharonovitch has been consulting with his predecessors, as well as with the current police chief and his predecessors, about his choice for the new police chief. He is expected to hold separate meetings with each of the finalists shortly. In addition, he plans to convene a meeting with other top police officials to get their thoughts on the current state of the police department and their needs as well as their expectations of the new commander.

Aharonovitch is a member of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, against whose leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the police have recommended filing a criminal indictment. Aharonovitch has told Lieberman he will not discuss his police appointments with the Yisrael Beiteinu leader. Although Lieberman does have input on other appointments, he has not taken issue with Aharonovitch on this one.

Until controversy surfaced over allegations of sexual improprieties against Public Security Ministry director general Hagai Peleg and then against Bar-Lev, it was thought that Aharonovitch would delay choosing a new police commissioner until January.

He decided to expedite the timing of the announcement, however, in order to calm the situation in the ranks of the police. Aharonovitch has also conferred with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to get assurances that they had no information that could scuttle the appointment of either Ayalon or Danino.

Ayalon, 55, is the most veteran of the police major generals and has served in four senior police positions over the past decade: commander of the West Bank District, head of the traffic division, deputy commissioner and Tel Aviv District commissioner. His service as West Bank commander provided him with experience which could be useful if diplomatic developments lead to the evacuation of West Bank settlements. He also made innovative changes in traffic police operations that resulted in better enforcement. Ayalon, who was decorated for handling disturbances on Jerusalem's Temple Mount 20 years ago, is expected to resign from the police if he is not appointed chief.

Danino, 51, is a lawyer by training and has served in three top law enforcement roles: head of the ministerial operational headquarters under ministers Tzahi Hanegbi and Gideon Ezra, head of the police investigations and intelligence division and police commander of the Southern District.

In a prior post as head of the serious international crime unit, he recommended that a criminal investigation against then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon in the so-called Greek island affair be closed. The recommendation was met by harsh criticism by then State Prosecutor Edna Arbel and police investigations head Moshe Mizrahi.

As head of the investigations and intelligence division, Danino established an elite investigation unit and led investigations against senior public figures including Moshe Katsav, Ehud Olmert, Abraham Hirchson and Haim Ramon. His tenure in the Southern District, where he succeeded Uri Bar-Lev as commander, was also considered a success.

If Danino had been willing to be appointed deputy commissioner under Ayalon, positioning himself as Ayalon's eventual successor, this would have resolved Aharonovitch's dilemma, but Danino has made it clear that he, too, would resign from the police force if he does not get the top post.