Israel’s New Police Commissioner: Sign of the Times? He’s From the Secret World of Shin Bet

by YOSSI MELMAN

TEL AVIV — The expected appointment of Shin Bet deputy director Roni Alsheich as the commissioner of the national police is another step in the changes that Israeli society and its elites are undergoing.

Like his boss at the domestic intelligence agency, Yoram Cohen, Alsheich wears a kippa (a yarmulke), and until three years ago he lived in a settlement in the West Bank. He since moved to a city near Tel Aviv.

Both Cohen and Alsheich are products of the national-religious community, which is mostly represented by the right-wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party. Another product of this community, National Security Council head Yossi Cohen, will most probably soon be nominated to lead the Mossad. Yossi Cohen, however, stopped wearing the skullcap of religious Jews long ago.

Thus Israel’s three leading security agencies will be commanded by men from the same background. Left-wingers and liberals are worried about the trend. They are in denial about the changes taking place in Israeli society.

One strong trend is the readiness of young graduates of the national-religious education system and youth movements to volunteer for public service in the security organizations – the IDF, Shin Bet and, though to a lesser degree, in the Mossad and police.

In this respect, they are pioneers exactly as the sons of the kibbutz movement were when the Labor Party and its left-wing partners ruled Israel for its first 20 years.

Those who know Yoram Cohen or Alsheich, including their secular colleagues in the agency, know very well that there is no need to be worried about Orthodox, religious control of national security decisions.

Like Shin Bet director Cohen, Alsheich sees himself as a public servant and the state’s laws as superior to religious ones. Under his command the police will show no political bias, nor will they turn a blind eye to criminality by politicians. That’s exactly how Alsheich has done it while serving in the Shin Bet.

On the contrary, one of the reasons for his decision to leave his settlement and move to the city was the harassment he had suffered from extreme-right neighbors, who thought he did not show enough sympathy in his work to their cause.

Alsheich began his service in the Shin Bet at the bottom and climbed to the top. He was recruited in 1988 to be a young case officer in charge of running Palestinian agents. He speaks good Arabic and was head of the Jerusalem and South districts before appointed as Number 2 in the organization.

He is a typical product of the Shin Bet organizational culture, its professionalism, education, and values. He will bring these values with him to the police.

Indeed, the police need a strong shake-up after sex scandals, failed investigations, and byzantine political machinations that besmirched their image in recent years.

There is of course the question of whether it is appropriate in a democratic state to appoint a senior official who comes from what in some countries is termed the “secret police” to lead a civilian police force. But this question aside, there are many important differences between the two bodies.

The Shin Bet is able to attract higher quality manpower than the police. The Shin Bet is a smaller agency with a few thousand employees, while the police have some 35,000. Thus the Shin Bet can react quicker with more flexibility than the police.

The Shin Bet also has much better technology at its disposal. It can conduct secret investigations; and when it feels that they could lead to the exposure of sources and methods of operation, it can refrain from presenting the cases before the court and settle for administrative detention.

The Shin Bet is a much more prestigious agency in Israeli society and is protected by a special law and censorship.

The police have to be much more transparent and produce evidence admissible in a court of law. They have a bad image and have been hampered by leaks.

In short, the police are a massive bureaucratic machine like a big and slow merchant ship. In comparison, the Shin Bet is a fast, agile missile boat.

As a professional case officer, Alsheich knows how to be charming, gentle, and nice; but at the same time manipulative and impossible to manipulate. His main mission will be to install Shin Bet organizational procedures into the Israel Police and to eradicate the culture of lies, cover-ups, and violence that spread like an epidemic in recent years among its rank and file and reached its top.

September 30, 2015

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