Top cops said set to quit Israel Police in protest of new commissioner pick

Three leading officers reportedly expected to step down, in addition to interim police chief Motti Cohen who announced he will leave post within days

Commander of the Jerusalem District Police, Doron Yedid (C) seen in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim as police close shops and disperse public gatherings, March 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Commander of the Jerusalem District Police, Doron Yedid (C) seen in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim as police close shops and disperse public gatherings, March 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several senior officers in the Israel Police are reportedly planning on hanging up their handcuffs and leaving the force in protest of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s Tuesday announcement that he had nominated Border Police chief Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai to serve as the next commissioner of police.

In addition to interim police chief Motti Cohen’s subsequent announcement that he would resign from the post within days, three other top police officers — Jerusalem District Commander Doron Yadid, Tel Aviv District Commander David Bitan and Deputy Commissioner Alon Asor — are also planning on resigning, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

In a letter to the force on Ohana’s decision, Cohen lamented the political calculations that led to the delay in the appointment of a permanent police chief for two years. He also claimed that unnamed forces were intervening in the police’s work.

According to Kan, Ohana told Cohen of his intention to appoint Shabtai in a “particularly difficult” meeting, after which the interim commissioner told his subordinates of his intention to step down even before his successor takes the reins.

Like Cohen, Yadid, Bitan and Asor were “dismayed” at the choice of Shabtai and the manner in which the appointment was made, the report said.

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

Shabtai, 56, had not been seen as a frontrunner in recent weeks, with many analysts speculating that Ohana would tap Yadid or one of Yadid’s predecessors, Yoram Halevi. Before taking on the role of Border Police chief, Shabtai served in the Yamam police counter-terrorism unit in addition to commanding an undercover combat force in the Gaza Strip. He had not served as district commissioner, a typical prerequisite for police chief candidates.

In addition to the announcement of the new police commissioner, Ohana said Tuesday the current head of the Israel Prisons Service’s southern district, Katy Perry, will serve as the next chief of the IPS, which has also been without a permanent chief since 2018.

New Israel Prisons Service southern district chief Katy Perry. (Israel Police)

In announcing his decision, Ohana said that both positions he was filling require leaders with “in-depth knowledge of the organization and experience in various roles,” as well as the ability to both uphold the organizations’ values and “refresh” them.

Hours after the announcement, Cohen sent his letter declaring his decision to retire from the force.

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

“Along with the familiar challenges of the job, recently I also had to deal with new challenges — attempts to intervene in the work of the Israel Police. This intervention has no place in the organization and I did not lend it a hand,” Cohen wrote, without going into specifics.

Responding to the criticism, Ohana said on Twitter that “a minister should be involved in the affairs of his office, and the minister of public security must be involved in police work, even if it is a new phenomenon for someone in the police or in the public service in general.”

Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana and Acting Israeli Police Commissioner Motti Cohen, during a visit at the Coronavirus National Enforcement Administration, in Tel Aviv, on December 1, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The announcement from the public security minister came less than a week after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered him to name a candidate for permanent police commissioner by the end of the month. Mandelblit’s instruction followed an injunction from the High Court of Justice ordering the government to fill the position, without providing a deadline.

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. As the government during this time was a caretaker-transitional one, it could not appoint a police chief.

Israel, however, has had a permanent coalition since May.

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. Cohen has been acting police chief since Alsheich’s departure and has had his tenure extended several times.

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