Deputy Commissioner Motti Cohen, who is currently serving as chief of the Israel Police in a 45-day temporary appointment, is reportedly the frontrunner in the race to replace former top cop Roni Alsheich, who retired on Monday, as the government scrambles to find a new permanent head for the force.
The government’s previous candidate, Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri, announced on Wednesday that he would withdraw his candidacy after he was rejected by a vetting committee and following new questions regarding his conduct throughout the nomination process.
The Goldberg Committee said last week that it could not recommend Edri as the next commissioner, citing a meeting he held during the nomination process with the lawyer of a Tax Authority whistleblower who has accused Edri of harassing him. The four-member panel voted 2-2 on Edri’s appointment, forcing a tie-breaking decision by the committee’s chairman, retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg.
The Friday decision, and the imminence of Alsheich’s retirement on Monday, led ministers to approve on Sunday the appointment of Motti Cohen, who heads the police’s southern district, as interim police chief. The appointment expires on January 16.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri did not participate in the Sunday vote because of a conflict of interest due to ongoing police investigations against them.
According to multiple reports on Thursday, Cohen is now seen as the leading candidate for the commissionership after January 16, beating out at least six other candidates.
Cohen, 56, was in charge of counterterrorism efforts in Tel Aviv during the suicide bombing wave of the Second Intifada, and is credited with dismantling one of Israel’s most dangerous criminal organizations, that of the Lavi family, when he served as Central District police chief from 2009 to 2013.
If Cohen is appointed police commissioner, he will follow in the footsteps of his brother, David Cohen, who was also given an interim appointment as Israel’s top cop in 2007 while the search for a replacement was underway, then won that race and served as the nation’s 16th police chief from 2007 to 2011.
The other candidates include retired Dep. Commissioner Bentzi Sau, Jerusalem Police chief Dep. Commissioner Yoram Halevy, Tel Aviv Police chief Dep. Commissioner David Bitan, and as many as three candidates from the army’s senior ranks being considered for the post — retired armored corps officer and Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Sammy Turgeman, former Air Force chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel, and former Central Command chief and now head of the army’s Iran efforts Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, fresh from the stinging derailment of Edri’s appointment, is said to be reluctant to appoint an outsider. Alsheich came to the police’s top post from the Shin Bet security and counterespionage service, and, Erdan staffers say, often clashed with the minister.
This was also the second time Erdan’s first choice for police chief has fallen through. In 2015 Erdan’s candidate Gal Hirsch, a former army general, was dropped after over some of his company’s dealings abroad were brought into question. Erdan instead nominated Roni Alsheich, who departed this week at the end of a three-year term marked by ongoing corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who chose not to give him a customary fourth-year extension.
Yet, despite previous failures, those close to Erdan also say he does not wish to appoint the two candidates who already got the Goldberg Committee’s approval, Jerusalem police chief Halevy and Tel Aviv’s top cop Bitan. The sources have not given a reason for the minister’s reluctance.
Criticizing the Goldberg Committee’s decision on Edri, a source close to Erdan told reporters on Wednesday, “the decision will now be based on who can work with the Goldberg Committee, not who is really the most deserving and talented future commissioner, in terms of operational and managerial experience. We’re bringing people who have had a 30-year career in the police, who have made tens of thousands of decisions. There will always be something small in their past [deserving of criticism]. The question is whether this is sufficient grounds to disqualify someone who could offer so much to the country.”