The brazen Saturday afternoon gangland murder outside Tel Aviv’s crowded Hatachana shopping center, in which two men on motorcycles shot a Jaffa criminal in his car, brought to 20 the number of organized crime assassinations and attempted murders in the last four months.
In the midst of this killing spree, which is causing heightened fear among the public (aka innocent bystanders), the Israel Police finds itself with a dearth of experienced crime-fighters among its top brass, according to some police officials, active and retired, who have been involved in fighting organized crime.
The war of succession began with the recent resignation of Chief Superintendent Menashe Arviv of the Lahav 433 crime-fighting unit, often called “Israel’s FBI.” Arviv’s alleged acceptance of cash and favors from Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto has cast a shadow over his integrity, but his ability to catch serious criminals was never questioned.
The leading candidate to replace him appears to be the head of the traffic division. Moshe “Chico” Edri is an admired commander who served in the Tel Aviv district, but is certainly not considered a crime-fighter. He never was an investigator or intelligence officer, and never even faced the prosecution in a serious case against organized crime.
“The army would never appoint a tank commander to command the air force,” asserts Meir Gilboa, former head of the major crimes unit. “They understand in the army that it is a different profession. In the police, they have not internalized that.”
The newly appointed head of investigations for the police international crime investigations unit, Yoav Telem, came in with a few months experience in the unit, but never was in a position to take on the crime organizations and never led a significant investigation before his boss, police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, decided to give his assistant such a sensitive post in the fight against organized crime.
“Telem is a serious and very talented guy as assistant to the police commissioner, but to appoint him head of investigations responsible for the war on organized crime is practically negligence,” says a former police commander. “The appointment is clearly because of his proximity to Danino, but it’s an unfunny joke that comes at the expense of the public, which sees what is going on in the streets.”
The appointment of Telem’s boss, unit commander Gadi Siso, is also taking heat. A police officer said Siso previously did not command a unit, was not the head of an investigation team, and did not handle any major cases.
Senior police officers go on to ask how it happened that officers like Gadi Eshed, commander of the central investigative unit’s Tel Aviv district, Yigal Ben Shalom, commander of its central district, Eli Assayag, commander of its coastal district, were not promoted to head one of the national units or at least be put in key positions fighting organized crime.
“It’s Danino’s decision not to promote those officers and weaken the central investigative units,” says a former police officer. “Ben Shalom, Eshed and Asayag are intelligence and investigation men from birth, and there is no way they won’t be at the forefront of this war.”
In response, the police said the appointment and promotion of officers is an organized, careful process accompanied by police committees’ discussions of the candidates’ suitability. These panels discuss the appointments of hundreds of officers every year.
This success shows in the fight against crime, the police said, pointing to the drop in the number of murders last year, and the fact that most murders are solved by the police.
Police also noted the confiscation of 250 million shekels from criminal profits, the drop in the number of car thefts and home break-ins; and the rise in the number of indictments of members of criminal organizations.
Nevertheless, there is something wrong with the Israel Police’s priorities. The lack of personal security is not just a feeling citizens have based on what they see on the news; it’s based on the increase in violent crimes and robberies, as proved by the police’s own statistics.
Danino, who made public trust in the police his goal and understood that to gain it he must deal with the crimes that most affect the public, has instead looked for answers in the least important places. Instead of dealing with murder, bombs, violence and robbery; he has chosen to deal with things like social protests and minor drug use. As police commanders are required to reach their arrest targets, they invest less in the quality of the cases than in the quantity.