Who is Gal Hirsch, championed for top police job by Likud minister, activists?
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ToI investigatesJustice Ministry: Case against Hirsch at an advanced stage

Who is Gal Hirsch, championed for top police job by Likud minister, activists?

Outgoing police minister urged AG to close case against Hirsch, alleging he’s being hounded. But questions remain about sources of his wealth and his ties to authoritarian regimes

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

Former IDF brigadier general Gal Hirsch is seen at a press conference in Tel Aviv to announce his entry to politics on December 26, 2018. (Flash90)
Former IDF brigadier general Gal Hirsch is seen at a press conference in Tel Aviv to announce his entry to politics on December 26, 2018. (Flash90)

At a ceremony last month marking the end of his term as Israel’s public security minister, Gilad Erdan added a fascinating addendum to his departure speech.

For most of his nine-minute remarks, Likud MK Erdan highlighted, as one would expect, what he believed to be his ministry’s achievements during his five years at its helm. He spoke about how the ministry, which oversees the Israel Police, had tackled the wave of “lone wolf” stabbings that terrorized Israelis in 2015 and 2016. He proudly noted the increased number of police stations in Arab towns and villages, whose residents have long complained of too little civilian police presence. He touted measures the ministry had taken to combat domestic violence against women. He spoke of its work to repair relations with Ethiopian-Israelis.

But towards the end of his May 18 speech, Erdan devoted almost two minutes to the issue of thwarted appointments to top public service roles, and specifically his inability to have his choice of police chief, retired brigadier general Gal Hirsch, serve in that central, vital, role.

“Alongside the professional challenges, I experienced other challenges, even personal ones,” Erdan said, going on to describe his 2015 appointment of Hirsch as police commissioner — an outsider he’d hoped would serve as a new broom — and his anger over the fact that Hirsch’s candidacy had to be withdrawn weeks later, when police suddenly opened several investigations into Hirsch and his business associates for alleged bribery of a foreign official and alleged money laundering.

Gilad Erdan (left) and his successor as public security minister, Amir Ohana, at a handover ceremony at the ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Appointing a police commissioner and appointments in general have become nearly a mission impossible in Israel,” Erdan lamented.

“I had hoped that Gal could lead the reforms I wanted in the Israeli police,” Erdan said. “The appointment had the full agreement of the prime minister and had won public support. But as soon as I announced it, a series of criminal investigations into Gal were launched, some of which ended recently, only recently, with a whimper, or some of which continue to this day — which led, obviously, to my sorrow, to the canceling and the torpedoing of the appointment.”

Erdan was referring to the fact that in August 2019, police announced, after four years of investigations, that there was insufficient evidence to indict Hirsch for allegedly bribing the defense minister of the Republic of Georgia in 2007-2008. An earlier police investigation into how Hirsch and the company he co-founded and headed, Defensive Shield Holdings Ltd., obtained a mine-clearing contract in the town of Rishon Lezion had been closed in October 2018. Police did recommend last August, however, that the state prosecution indict Hirsch for alleged tax evasion over his alleged failure to report or explain the source of tens of millions of shekels allegedly held in offshore bank accounts.

In his speech, Erdan did not detail the tax evasion allegations but dismissed them out of hand as the product of a plot by prosecutors and police against Hirsch, calling on the attorney general to close the case against him and saying Hirsch had been unacceptably hounded.

“This is a terrible injustice to a brave officer who risked his life for our sake. I am very sorry this happened, and believe that this affair must end today. And therefore I call from here today, on the day that I pass the baton to my friend, Minister Amir Ohana, I call on the attorney general to make a decision today to close the last remaining case against Gal Hirsch.”

Nobody, Erdan said, should have to go through the kind of protracted judicial hounding endured by Hirsch for five years, and “to pay so heavy a price for agreeing to serve” in the post.

Far from heeding his call, however, the Justice Ministry spokeswoman told The Times of Israel this week that the case was “at an advanced stage.” Furthermore, the spokeswoman said, two of Hirsch’s Defensive Shield associates, Mikhael Benimini and Yaniv Adam, are also suspects. A third associate, Oded Shachnai, was named as a suspect in a statement issued by the ministry last year.

A controversial candidate

Israel has had no permanent police commissioner since Roni Alsheich, the man Erdan chose when the Hirsch appointment fell through, left the post in 2018. Instead, an interim appointee, Moti Cohen, is holding the fort. It falls to Erdan’s successor, Ohana, to choose the next commissioner, and Erdan appeared to be implying that he still regards Hirsch as an appropriate candidate.

While Israeli Twitter users on the left and center of the political spectrum have generally shown little interest in the saga, Likud activists tweeted hundreds of times in the days preceding and following Erdan’s speech, calling for the case against Hirsch to be closed. Many Twitter accounts went further, calling on Ohana to appoint him the next police commissioner. (This would only become legally feasible if and when the criminal case against him is closed.)

Some of these tweets came from the accounts of prominent Likud activists, while others came from little-known accounts with few followers that espouse pro-Hirsch and pro-Netanyahu messages.

On May 13, Sheffi Paz, an influential activist against the presence of African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, tweeted that she expected the incoming minister “to appoint someone from outside the ranks of the police, preferably Gal Hirsch.”

On May 18, Likud activist Maya Ben Shalom tweeted to the new minister: “Dear Ohana, I heard that you also think Gal Hirsch should be the next police commissioner. It’s time to end this protracted judicial hounding, close the cases against him, and prove to the public that there is a chance for real change at one of the key junctures in the country.”

Giora Ezra, whose Twitter account, Captain George, had been cited in March 2019 as being part of a coordinated network of pro-Likud bots and fake accounts — an accusation Ezra rejected, saying he arrives at his views independently — tweeted on May 19, “[Hirsch] is a victim of the system… They came up with new accusations against him when they saw the bribery case collapsed … The system must be destroyed!”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Amir Ohana (center) speak to the media about an alleged fake media campaign, at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 1, 2019. At left is Giora Ezra, who runs the Captain George Twitter account. The slogan on the screen above them reads: We won’t let them bring down the Right. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hirsch has publicly stated in the past that if he is put in charge of police, he will restrain what he sees as overzealous investigations and prosecutions. Such statements are appealing to Likud activists who view the indictment and trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery as a politically motivated plot against him by the Israeli “deep state,” as many Likud activists phrase it.

It is nevertheless unclear why Hirsch remains a favorite among Likud activists for the role of police chief, especially when there are presumably other candidates for the job who don’t have the cloud of a potential indictment looming over them.

Moreover, beyond the criminal allegations against him, an examination of Hirsch’s activities over the last 15 years, based on public sources, raises troubling questions about his suitability for the role of police chief.

Were he to be appointed, Hirsch would be the only Israeli police commissioner whose name appears in the Panama Papers, the famous leak of 11.5 million documents from the secretive Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca.

Furthermore, public documents show that the companies he co-founded and headed, Defensive Shield Ltd and Defensive Shield Holdings Ltd, sold weapons, training and possibly surveillance technology to clients that included Georgia, Kazakhstan and possibly other regimes that were authoritarian in nature.

In fact, there are two companies colloquially known as “Defensive Shield.” The first, Defensive Shield Ltd., was founded in 2007 and submitted its last annual report in December 2013 but hasn’t officially shut down (the company has since changed its name to D.S. Capital). The second company, Defensive Shield Holdings Ltd., was founded in 2008 and is still active. Hirsch is the majority shareholder and a director of the former. The second company is one-third-owned by Hirsch, with the other two-thirds owned by father-and-son Dror Shachnai and former IDF career officer Oded Shachnai. (A third company, Defensive Shield Training Ltd., was founded in 2009 and is a subsidiary of Defensive Shield Holdings.) Both companies shared the same website and at certain points, the website referred to Defensive Shield Ltd. and Defensive Shield Holdings Ltd. seemingly interchangeably.

Hirsch is reportedly a wealthy man thanks to his business ventures over the last 13 years. A Haaretz investigation from September 2015 found that he had five mortgages on properties worth tens of millions of shekels. The company he ran with Oded Shachnai, Defensive Shield Holdings Ltd., claimed to have earnings of NIS 14 million (about $4 million) in 2018, according to documents seen by The Times of Israel. Israel’s Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority (IMPA) has alleged that Hirsch held millions in offshore bank accounts.

According to an August 25 press release (Hebrew) from IMPA, which had collaborated with police in investigating money flows from Georgia into foreign banks, “it is suspected that huge sums of money, to the tune of tens of millions of shekels, were transmitted from the Georgian defense ministry to Israeli and foreign bank accounts tied to people from the company Defensive Shield. The investigation reveals that Gal Hirsch and [his partner] Oded Shachnai and their employees hid tens of millions of shekels through shell companies in tax havens and foreign bank accounts and transferred the money from bank account to bank account in order not to report their income and to hide it from the Israel Tax Authority. It also emerged that false reports were made and forged documents were presented to foreign financial institutions concerning the origins of the money.”

This raises questions over the sources of Hirsch’s wealth, and what kinds of people he associated with in countries such as Georgia and Kazakhstan.

From war in Lebanon to war in Georgia

Gal Hirsch first gained public prominence in 2006 as the commander of the IDF’s Galilee Division. Two soldiers under his command, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, were abducted and killed by Hezbollah, and six other soldiers were killed, in a July 12, 2006, incident that sparked the Second Lebanon War.

In December of 2006, an Israel Defense Forces investigatory commission strongly criticized Hirsch’s conduct during the war, leading Hirsch to hand in his resignation.

Judge Eliyahu Winograd, the chairman of a second commission that investigated the 2006 war, said publicly in 2015 that Hirsch did not deserve condemnation for his conduct — that he had trained his division well but had not received the support he needed from higher-ups in the IDF.

A few months after resigning from the IDF, Hirsch in 2007 set up Defensive Shield Ltd., according to Israel’s corporate registry, and requested permits from the Israeli Defense Ministry to train Georgian ground forces. He was reportedly given a green light.

Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch, center, with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2006. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

In Georgia, a small country with a population of about 4 million, Hirsch developed an outstanding relationship with then-29-year-old defense minister Davit Kezerashvili, according to reports in the Israeli media at the time. Kezerashvili had immigrated to Israel as a teenager with his parents, then moved back to Georgia a year and a half later to attend university. He became a lawyer and close adviser to the reform-minded and pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia in 2008-2013.

Defensive Shield helped arm and prepare the Georgian army prior to its August 2008 war against Russia. The brief Russian-Georgian war was considered by many Georgians to have been a fiasco. Georgia lost 184 military and police personnel while Russia claimed that it lost 67 soldiers, according to figures compiled by the late US diplomat Ronald Asmus. Georgia lost control of two breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to Russia. According to Asmus, Russia’s goal in the war had been to destroy the chances of NATO expanding to Georgia and to dissuade other countries on its borders from getting too close to the West.

Kezerashvili stepped down from his defense minister post in December 2008 amid criticism of how the war had played out.

Panamanian companies and a Swiss bank

In 2015, an anonymous source leaked 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. These documents reveal the beneficial ownership and other legal and financial information of over 200,000 offshore companies, entities whose ownership is intended to be a tightly held secret. The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper published the documents in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, in what became known as the Panama Papers leak.

Setting up offshore companies in secrecy jurisdictions can be legitimate, especially if income from such companies is declared to the relevant tax authority. However, some users of offshore companies utilize them to hide assets, earnings or business activity from public scrutiny or oversight.

Hirsch and other senior executives at Defensive Shield were associated with seven Panamanian companies that appear in the Panama Papers leak and that were registered in 2008 while Kezerashvili was still Georgia’s defense minister. Two companies associated with Hirsch were Templeton Team S.A. and Moore Equities. Both companies have bearer shares, meaning that only the person bearing a certificate of ownership in the company knows he is the owner. Hirsch, the Panama Papers show, was given power of attorney for both companies.

Defensive Shield executive Yaniv Adam, Israeli Ambassador to Georgia Yuval Fuchs and Defensive Shield executive Oded Shachnai in Georgia in 2012 (Facebook screenshot)

Other representatives of Defensive Shield were given power of attorney over additional anonymously owned Panamanian companies in 2008. Mikhael Benimini (who also goes by the name Mikheil Biniashvili), who was described on Defensive Shield’s website in 2009 as the company’s “business development manager for eastern Europe,” was given power of attorney over Timmons Corp. Yaniv Adam, another Defensive Shield executive, represented Laore Corp. And Oded Shachnai had power of attorney over Artisti Corp., Tippora S.A. and DSH Defensive Holdings.

There are few clues online as to what these seven companies did or do. The Israeli anti-money laundering authority has alleged that Hirsch and his associates transmitted tens of millions of shekels from the Georgian defense ministry to offshore companies, which were used to obscure the money’s origins, but the anti-money laundering authority did not name the companies that were involved in this alleged scheme.

In August 2017 a Georgian court acquitted Kezerashvili of charges that he had embezzled Georgian funds in an alleged scheme involving Defensive Shield.

Hirsch and his colleagues have denied any wrongdoing.

Swiss private banker Michael Hessel (Facebook)

All seven of these Panamanian companies were incorporated by Mossack Fonseca Luxembourg in 2008 before Kezerashvili stepped down from his post as defense minister. Several years later, the companies were all transferred to the administration of Union Bancaire Privee in Geneva, a private Swiss bank with numerous Israeli employees and clients, as shown in the Panama Papers, including Israeli clients associated with the online gambling and diamond industries.

In June 2019, Reuters reported that the Israeli Finance Ministry had asked the Swiss government for help in identifying Israelis who had undisclosed funds at Union Bancaire Privee as well as Bank Julius Baer.

In the case of several of the Panamanian companies represented by Hirsch and senior executives at Defensive Shield, the banker administering the companies for Union Bancaire Privee was Michael Hessel, the son of Yoram Hessel, a former chief of global operations of the Mossad. (Michael Hessel’s mother, Shalva Hessel, wrote a book about the family’s exploits entitled “Married to the Mossad.”)

The Times of Israel sent requests for comment to Hirsch, Benimini, Adam and Shachnai asking about the purpose of these companies over which they had power of attorney. Hirsch and Shachnai refused to respond to any questions and Hirsch threatened to sue The Times of Israel. Benimini did not respond to questions sent to the email address of one of his lawyers or to his latest known phone number. Yaniv Adam’s wife answered the family’s home phone but refused to provide an email or phone number where her husband could be reached for comment.

Who did Defensive Shield do business with?

Defensive Shield Holdings Ltd. was incorporated in May 2008 by attorney Gur Finkelstein, who also served as a director of the company until September 2008. (In 2011 Finkelstein was indicted and later sentenced to eight years in prison for hiring hit men against several of his rivals.) At around the same time that he registered Defensive Shield Holdings, Finkelstein also incorporated companies owned or run by members of Benimini’s family.

According to archived pages of its website, Defensive Shield provided both weapons and training to its clients. In July 2012, its website proclaimed that “Defensive Shield’s mission is to tailor our solution to your needs. We will convert your vessel into a speedboat, equip your crew with state-of-the-art weapons and technology and train them to steer that boat through treacherous waters.”

An October 2015 screenshot from the Defensive Shield website identifying Gal Hirsch as the company’s “head.” By 2018, he was described on the site as a “Senior Advisor.”

As for the company’s clients, a November 2012 article (Hebrew) in the trade publication Israel Defense claimed that the mayor and a senior police officer from Monaco had come to Israel as guests of Defensive Shield, with the help of Israeli businessman Arik Meimoun.

“The Israeli company is carrying out a big security project in the principality,” the article said.

A 2013 article in the Israeli Globes business newspaper said that Defensive Shield “connects investors abroad with Israeli companies in the defense sector.”

An archived page of Defensive Shield’s site from August 2013 announced that Defensive Shield had hosted the Kazakh ambassador to Israel at its offices.

“Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Israel, Mr. Galym Orazbakov, visited Defensive Shield Ltd. with his close advisors team,” the website announced.

Kazakhstan is an autocratic, highly repressive regime that does not tolerate a free press or political opposition.

According to an email that was part of a hack of the Italian computer surveillance company Hacking Team and posted to the controversial website Wikileaks in 2015, Tomer Orbach, Defensive Shield’s VP of Marketing, met with Hacking Team and offered to sell its surveillance products to several regimes with poor human rights records.

“Following your meeting with Tomer Orbach, VP Marketing of Defensive Shield in Milipol, we would like to get from you more information and materials about your company in soft version,” wrote Luba Livertovsky, Defensive Shield’s Sales and Marketing Coordinator, in the email from December 2013.

“As you understood during the meeting, we are active among others in the following countries: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and work with defense organizations such as the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior Affairs and in different areas such as border defense and more. We would like to know which territories are available for our promotion of your products,” Livertovsky wrote.

Hacking Team had its global license revoked by Italian export authorities following intense media scrutiny occasioned by the hacked documents.

In a letter from his lawyer to The Times of Israel, Hirsch denied that Defensive Shield has ever sold surveillance equipment to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan or Turkey and said that if The Times of Israel raised the issue it would constitute libel and could put him, his family and his employees in danger as well as jeopardize his current and future business activities abroad.

Despite this denial,  Defensive Shield’s own marketing material claims that a subsidiary of Defensive Shield Holdings Ltd., Nirtal Security Guides and Weapons Development Ltd., was in the practice of selling surveillance equipment.

A screenshot from a 2009 brochure produced by Nirtal, a subsidiary of Defensive Shield Holdings, offering “surveillance equipment” to customers (Nirtal.com)

Defensive Shield’s own website says that Nirtal in 2014 carried out a project in a “central Asian country.”

“Nirtal has completed a VIP Protection Course in a Central Asian country (April 2014),” Defensive Shield’s website claims.

“Central Asia” is generally defined as comprising the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

An August 2016 filing for Defensive Shield in the Israeli corporate registry shows that one of the company’s sources of financial backing was “The Arystan Service of the National Security of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” a Kazakh special forces unit that protects the country’s president.

Haaretz reported in 2015 that there had been a photo on Defensive Shield’s website of Hirsch hosting a delegation to Israel from the Congo. It is not clear from the website whether Defensive Shield ever signed a contract with the African country, whose government has been accused of “unlawful killings, forced disappearances and abductions… harsh and life-threatening prison conditions… [holding] political prisoners… threats against and harassment of journalists..  substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association,” among other human rights violations, according to a recent report by the US State Department.

Activities of Defensive Shield personnel in Albania

In late 2013, several senior Defensive Shield personnel — not including Hirsch — showed up in Albania, where they registered [Albanian link] several companies that would later become embroiled in a scandal. They used their own names, but not that of Defensive Shield, in the Albanian incorporation documents, and there is no conclusive evidence that they were operating in their capacity as representatives of Defensive Shield.

A company called Sun Petroleum Albania Trading Ltd., a wholesaler of petroleum products, was registered in October 2013 by Israeli citizen Dory Grossman, who at the time was an executive in Hirsch’s Defensive Shield, according to his LinkedIn profile.

One of the incorporation documents for the Albanian company Sun Petroleum Albania Trading Ltd showing three people linked to Defensive Shield among the board members (Source: Albanian corporate registry)

At the same time, Sun Petroleum Albania Trading had several board members. These included Grossman, Oded Shachnai, Hirsch’s partner in Defensive Shield, and Mikheil Biniashvili (aka Mikhael Benimini), who had been an employee of Defensive Shield in 2009, according to the company’s website. It is unclear if he was still an employee of the company when he moved from Georgia to Albania in 2013 and became involved in the incorporation of Sun Petroleum Albania Trading. Benimini is a close relative of former Georgian defense minister Kezerashvili.

In February 2014, Grossman sold his ownership in Sun Petroleum Albania Trading to Universal Energy Group LLC, a Delaware shell company, for the relatively low price of 100,000 Albanian lek (about $900), according to Albanian corporate filings.

Universal Energy Group was represented by Guram Gogeshvili, a Georgian-Israel citizen who later became involved in the forex and payment processing industry, his LinkedIn profile shows. According to the Albanian National Register of Citizens, Universal Energy Group was owned by Alexandre Gogokhia, a close associate of former Georgian defense minister Kezerashvili.

In March 2015, Biniashvili (Benimini), Shachnai and Grossman left the board of directors of Sun Petroleum Albania Trading, while Yaniv Adam, another executive at Defensive Shield, joined the board. Adam, who is the father of the famous Israeli singer Omer Adam, remained on the company’s board until the company’s abrupt end.

The company, together with its sister company Sun Petroleum Albania Ltd., a gasoline retailer, was popularly known by the trademark “Gulf Albania.” It supplied and managed gas stations throughout Albania.

A Gulf gas station in Albania (Facebook screenshot)

In April of 2018, Albanian media reported that Sun Petroleum Albania Trading and its sister company Sun Petroleum Albania Ltd. had declared bankruptcy, ceased operations and allegedly left behind debts of about €5 million. In the final four days before it ceased operations, representatives of the company had reportedly sold €1.5 million worth of discount gasoline vouchers to Albanian drivers, then left these drivers queued up at shuttered gas stations with no way to claim their fuel.

“The representatives of Gulf Albania are under investigation over a fraudulent scheme of selling vouchers worth 1.5 million euro ($1.8 million) a few days before the company ceased its activities,” one report said.

The Times of Israel has learned that the case is still under investigation, although Albanian prosecutors have decided not to prosecute any of the Georgian or Israeli founders or owners of the companies. At present, there is one suspect in the case: an Albanian man named Albano Aliko, one of the managers of Gulf Albania.

The Times of Israel has not seen any evidence linking Hirsch to the alleged Albanian scandal.

Benimini’s link to binary options

In February of 2014, Sun Petroleum Albania Trading created a subsidiary called Terminal Investments Management. Its stated purpose was “finding fuel suppliers in international markets.”

Source: Albanian corporate registry

Ten months later, on December 18, 2014, Dory Grossman, who worked for Defensive Shield at the time, sold Terminal Investments Management to Mikhael Benimini for the bargain-basement price of 100 Albanian lek (about $1).

On December 24, Terminal Investments Management changed its name to “Spot MT” and its new stated purpose was “incoming and outgoing call center, activity providing various online services.”

An internet search reveals that starting in September 2013, Benimini registered dozens of domain names for binary options, forex and cryptocurrency trading sites, including binaryusa.com, capmb.com and tradereu.com. He used his Gulf Albania email address mb@gulf-al.com to register many of these online trading sites. In addition, his name and email address were used to publish the Milano Trader binary options app in multiple online app stores. Milanotrader.com was registered in June 2015 by the Cypriot company Spot Capital Markets, a sister company of the now-defunct Israeli binary options provider SpotOption.

An ad for the Spot MT call center

As for Spot MT, the Albanian company incorporated by Dory Grossman and sold to Benimini for $1, it has advertised widely on social media, looking for call center employees in Tirana. “A trading company with several years of experience in forex and crypto is hiring operators, account managers, retention salespeople and retention managers,” read one such ad. “Excellent knowledge of English or Italian required. Experience in forex or binary options a plus.”

Binary options was a largely fraudulent industry that flourished in Israel for a decade before it was outlawed via Knesset legislation in October 2017, largely as a result of investigative reporting by The Times of Israel that began with a March 2016 article entitled “The wolves of Tel Aviv.

The Times of Israel has seen no evidence linking Hirsch to binary options activity.

The Times of Israel asked Hirsch, Oded Shachnai and Adam if they were aware of Benimini’s binary options activity and asked Benimini himself about his involvement in such activity, but none of them responded.

Almost chief of police

On August 25, 2015, Hirsch was named the 18th commander of the Israeli police force. The former brigadier general in the Paratroopers Brigade was hailed by Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “devoted officer with good values” whose appointment could bring about much-needed reform in the police and “strengthen the rule of law in Israel.”

As he prepared to take up the post, however, Hirsch’s appointment encountered opposition from several directions.

Bereaved parents of soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War expressed outrage at the choice. “If the minister doesn’t change his mind, we won’t give up, we’ll turn to the High Court,” said Yoav Tzur, one of the bereaved parents who set up a tent outside Gilad Erdan’s home. “This is an inappropriate appointment and the prime minister knows it’s inappropriate.”

That was when the Israeli police reportedly found a file they had received from the FBI two years earlier, alleging that Hirsch had been involved in corrupt dealings with the former Georgian defense minister. Police presented the file to then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein, who agreed to review its contents.

Hirsch denied any wrongdoing. “My business activities are legal and supervised,” Hirsch reportedly told associates. “They are telling tales about me.”

Fuming that he was innocent and that his appointment was being torpedoed by corrupt police insiders, Hirsch lost out on the prestigious position. In his stead, Roni Alsheich, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet security agency, was named to head the force, again with Netanyahu’s enthusiastic support.

Three years later, in late 2018, Alsheich ended his term — having presided over several ongoing investigations of Netanyahu for fraud and bribery and seen his relationship with the prime minister deteriorate to the point where he was denied the customary fourth-year extension to his term. The post of police commissioner has remained open.

In August 2019, police announced that they had not found sufficient evidence that Hirsch had bribed then-Georgian defense minister Kezerashvili, and were instead recommending a scaled-back indictment of Hirsch for tax evasion.

Since he was denied the police commissioner post in 2015, Hirsch has lectured widely in Israel and abroad on the topic of leadership. He also authored a Hebrew-language book entitled “We Before I – Gal Hirsch about leadership,” which contains his personal insights into what it means to be a leader.

The cover of Gal Hirsch’s 2019 book “Us Before Me: One Leadership” (Times of Israel)

“An inner voice calls to you to get up and go, to embark on a journey, to guide and to lead. It all starts with the voice, and the voice is everything.”

At his Tel Aviv book launch in December 2018, Hirsch announced that he was entering politics and forming a new political party called Magen Israel (Shield of Israel). His platform (Hebrew) included promises to instill values of “unity” and “tolerance” in Israeli society, to promote the interests of Arab Israelis and other underprivileged groups and to reform Israel’s law enforcement system. He also said that if elected, he would seek to be appointed minister of public security, which oversees the police.

His running mates included Asher Tishler, a spokesman and advisory board member for the controversial Israeli spy-for-hire company Black Cube, as well as haredi journalist Yanki Farber.

Magen performed poorly in the April 2019 national elections, receiving only 3,394 votes nationwide.

In June 2019, Hirsch joined the Likud party, running in the ceremonial 99th spot on the party list in the September 2019 elections and 100th on the list in the March 2020 elections.

On June 30, 2019 Gal Hirsch (left) joined Likud at the behest of Prime Minister Netanyahu (Facebook)

Likud won 36 seats in March, leaving Hirsch, as expected, out of the Knesset. His Likud political affiliation might throw a spoke in the wheel of any effort to appoint him police commissioner, however, even if the tax evasion case against him were closed. He would have to undergo vetting by a committee for high-level appointments whose purpose is to ensure that appointments are not made on the basis of “personal, business or political affiliations” with people in the government. Were the committee to approve the appointment, organizations such as the Movement for Quality Government could petition the High Court of Justice to disqualify him.

The Times of Israel sent repeated requests to Hirsch, Shachnai, Adam and Benimini to answer questions and convey their version of events, even delaying publication of the article to give them ample time to respond. None of them chose to give substantive answers to specific questions about Defensive Shield’s business activities over the last 13 years.

On June 10, the Justice Ministry spokesman told The Times of Israel that the tax evasion case against Hirsch is “under examination at an advanced stage.” She specified that Benimini and Adam were also suspects.

Police ‘restraint’

At a press conference shortly after his 2015 appointment was nixed, Hirsch said: “I am worried about the state of the nation, about very powerful forces and interests that were not elected by the people and that direct our lives.”

Hirsch may well have been alluding to powerful figures in the police whom he claims to believe torpedoed his appointment. But in his post-IDF career, Hirsch himself has had dealings with powerful forces and interests outside of Israel, most notably in Georgia and Kazakhstan.

All of which makes a pledge that Hirsch made in January 2019, while running for the Knesset on the Magen ticket, particularly curious. He promised, if put in charge of the police, to “strengthen the law enforcement system and infuse it with checks and balances. It will have power, but also restraint of power. We will have policing but the concept of over-policing will be eliminated.”

An infusion of “checks and balances” and “restraint” into Israeli law enforcement. What exactly did the stymied police chief with the opaque business history mean by that?

Lindita Cela / OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) contributed reporting to this article.

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