Says he wants to rebuild public appreciation for police

Cabinet okays Kobi Shabtai as permanent police chief, a job unfilled for 2 years

Shabtai to hold position for 3 years, with option to extend for 1 more; Public Security Minister Ohana said to clash with AG Mandelblit at cabinet meeting

Kobi Shabtai (C) receives his rank as new police chief from Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (R), January 17, 2020 (Israel Police)
Kobi Shabtai (C) receives his rank as new police chief from Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (R), January 17, 2020 (Israel Police)

Cabinet ministers on Sunday approved Kobi Shabtai’s appointment as police commissioner, after the position remained without a permanent appointee for over two years.

Shabtai’s appointment is for a three-year term, which can be extended for an additional year under special circumstances, the government announcement said.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, there was friction at the cabinet meeting when Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is responsible for the police force, asked that Shabtai be party to the discussions on his appointment, a request for which he was rebuked by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

At a ceremony after the meeting to bestow the new rank, Ohana said that Shabtai was “the most suitable person to strengthen public trust in the police.”

Kobi Shabtai, commander of the Border Police, on September 28, 2017 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“There are many challenges facing you — enforcing the coronavirus guidelines, the violence in Arab society, the difficult budget year ahead of us. I have no doubt that if there is a suitable person in the police force to deal with these challenges, it is you. We will stand by your side in the struggles and congratulate you on every success,” Ohana said.

Shabtai responded that he would focus on serious crime, road safety and the violence within Arab communities.

“I intend to ensure that our police officers go back to receiving the public appreciation they so deserve,” Shabtai said.

Shabtai, who served as head of the Border Police, entered the post of acting police chief at the beginning of the month, after his planned appointment on a permanent basis was held up by disagreements between the Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an event at Bar Ilan University, March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

He took up the post after Motti Cohen’s term as acting police chief ended after two years, following multiple extensions.

Sunday’s meeting was called after Gantz demanded the cabinet secretary convene the government to okay the nomination. The cabinet had been set to approve Shabtai’s appointment last week, but Netanyahu called off the meeting after Gantz gave a campaign speech calling on center-left parties to unite against the premier in the upcoming elections, according to the Haaretz daily.

The Israel Police has been without a permanent commissioner since December 2018, when Roni Alsheich’s term ended. Around the same time, new elections were called, leading to an extended period of instability that saw three elections over the course of a year.

A new permanent government was formed in May, but also suffered ongoing dysfunction, and collapsed last month over a failure to pass a state budget.

Then-Acting Israel Police Commissioner Motti Cohen visits a temporary checkpoint in Jerusalem, on September 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After Ohana announced Shabtai as his pick for commissioner last month, Cohen announced his resignation, saying political calculations had led to the delay in the appointment of a permanent police chief. He also claimed that unnamed forces were intervening in the police’s work.

“It seems that the decision not to appoint a permanent commissioner for such a long time was not without ulterior considerations,” Cohen wrote in a letter to officers, in an apparent swipe at the government led by Netanyahu.

Alsheich was a key figure in Netanyahu’s criminal probes and is one of the figures the premier and his Likud colleagues have claimed without evidence were involved in an attempted coup against Netanyahu.

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