Police chief Alsheich to be replaced after sparring with PM over probes

Rare decision to not let commissioner stay on for fourth year seen as linked to corruption investigations he is overseeing against Netanyahu

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced Thursday that he will not extend the term of police chief Roni Alsheich, spelling the end of a tumultuous three years that saw the commissioner  sparring with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a series of corruption investigations.

Alsheich, who was appointed to the post in December 2015 after a career in the Shin Bet security service, had hoped to be asked to stay on the job for a customary fourth year when his three-year term ends in December. Most saw the decision to let his term expire as linked to his frayed relationship with Netanyahu.

Erdan informed Alsheich of the decision in a meeting with the commissioner Thursday where he thanked him for his “longstanding and highly acclaimed service for the security of the country and its citizens,” according to a statement released by Erdan.

In a statement released by police, Alsheich in return thanked Erdan for the opportunity to serve as head of the force and wished success to his as-yet-unchosen successor.

“The Israel Police is at the forefront of defending the image, security and integrity of the state. These are the missions on which the Israel Police’s conscience stands,” Alsheich said in a possible hint at recent attacks on the police by senior politicians including the prime minister. “I am convinced that the Israel Police will continue to be vigilant about the state’s independence, its social strength and the quality of life of its residents.”

No successor has been named. Erdan said Thursday afternoon that he will present the final candidates for the next police commissioner at a press conference later in the day.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheich at Police headquarters in Jerusalem on April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu, under investigation in three cases, had made little secret of his dislike for Alsheich over the last year, accusing him of leaking information to the press and of conducting a “witch hunt.”

Reports had spread in recent weeks that Netanyahu was not planning to extend Alsheich’s term in order to prevent him pursuing the investigations further.

The official term of a police commissioner is three years but it is rare for the top cop’s tenure not to be extended to four.

Following the announcement, opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union called for an end to the “farcical practice” of limiting the term to three years and “allow the head of the police to be independent without constantly dangling the extension in front of him.”

Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal graft investigations, all of which involve suspicions that he advanced the interests of businesspeople in government in exchange for expensive gifts and positive media coverage. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid leads his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, June 4, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the move was directly linked to the investigations of the prime minister and Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said here was “a heavy cloud” over the decision.

Alsheich had said that he would not compromise on his values to hold onto the job.

“If, to get an extension, a fourth year, I have to give up on my values, or the value of the rule of law, that’s not for me,” Hadashot news quoted him in April as telling confidants.

Alsheich, who came to the police force in 2015 after several other candidates to replace former chief Yohanan Danino were disqualified, also reportedly said that he never asked for the job.

“They pleaded with me,” he was quoted saying. But he added that, “The good of the police, the good of the public, requires and deserves four years, to complete the job.”

Chief of Police Roni Alsheich at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on December 3, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The decision not to extend Alsheich’s tenure comes a day after two members of the government committee that advises on the ethical appropriateness of appointees to the most senior positions in public service resigned Wednesday, in the wake of a High Court ruling questioning their suitability.

The court had ordered a freeze to all proceedings of the four-person committee headed by Eliezer Goldberg, a former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller, following an appeal by the Movement for Integrity watchdog group which insisted that both national security adviser Yaakov Nagel and Iris Shtark, a noted accountant, were too close to Netanyahu.

Four deputy commissioners are said to be in the running to replace Alsheich: Jerusalem district chief Yoram Halevi; southern district chief Motti Cohen; Tel Aviv police chief David Bitan; and Moshe Edri, a former head of the Tel Aviv police and director general of the Public Security Ministry.

The race has already garnered controversy.

Alsheich reportedly ordered all four deputy commissioners in the running to undergo lie-detector tests in order to help zero in on incidents or connections that could embarrass the police if they are selected as the next chief.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Yoram Halevi (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

According to recent reports citing leaks from within the police, Cohen and Bitan passed the tests with flying colors, Edri has yet to take it, and Halevi had unspecified compromising issues raised about his record.

Last week Halevi, considered to be Netanyahu’s preferred pick for the job, lambasted media reports claiming that Alsheich has been trying to undermine his candidacy. While touring Jerusalem’s iconic Mahane Yehuda market with Alsheich, Halevi said the rumors were wrong, and “were hurting me and my family.”

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