(photo credit: Courtesy)
Looks can be deceiving, and that’s rarely been more apparent than this weekend, when the mask was pulled from “R.,” deputy Shin Bet head Roni Alsheikh, revealing the man the pixels, to the glee of countless Israelis on Facebook, WhatsApp and beyond.
Bearing a strong resemblance to the US actor Kevin James in Paul Bart: Mall Cop, the spymaster does not look the part of a clandestine warrior, but maybe we’ve all seen too many movies. According to associates and former Shin Bet officials, Alsheikh is one of the agency’s most talented and impressive officers, a skilled manipulator and interrogator, an agent and commander who excels at field work and has left his mark on plenty of top secret operations.
Considered a favorite to take over the Shin Bet after director Yarom Cohen steps down next year, he now faces what is arguably the greatest challenge of his career – righting the Israel Police, a giant organization that has been riddled with scandal in recent years and is at the center of some of the country’s most sensitive battles – including the situation on the Temple Mount.
Alsheikh will leave the culture of the Shin Bet for a radically different one in the police. Lacking the prestige and public admiration of Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Israel Police lacks the same expectation of excellence, from both the public and itself. It’s also far larger than the Shin Bet, with around 30,000 officers and tens of thousands of volunteer police. Righting such a large, important organization is more like turning around an aircraft carrier than a small, dynamic espionage agency like the Shin Bet.
Alsheikh will have several advantages entering the post.
He will have the credibility afforded a top Shin Bet commander and with no background in the police, he will owe nothing to subordinates in the force whom he never served with. He’s not part of their boys club, even though the Shin Bet, as an investigatory agency, does resemble the police in some ways and cooperates with the force on a daily basis.
It’s inevitable that there will be some who resent the new commissioner. The Shin Bet is second on the prestige ladder of Israel’s security agencies, below the Mossad.
If the IDF is put in a separate category, the police is a distant third and not afforded the prestige or public approval afforded the spy agencies – which much of the public seems to think are largely without incompetent employees, failure and mistaken decisions.
Furthermore, he won’t have many of the same tools at his disposal as he does with the Shin Bet. He will have to operate with greater transparency, without the network of Palestinian informants and ultra-sophisticated technology at the agency’s disposal in the largely lawless West Bank.
Regardless, Alsheikh is a very strong candidate and will bring powerful credentials with him when he enters the commissioner’s office in Jerusalem.
He’ll find there are no quick fixes for an agency as large and scandal ridden as the police, but he knows that already. With the backing of the public and the knowledge that the police needs a serious shaking up on almost every level of the organization, he has a chance of moving the force in the right direction.