Yochanan Danino and Bentzi Sau.
(photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
On paper at least, the chips had all fallen into place for Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau. The head of the Tel Aviv District police and former head of the Central District was made deputy-commissioner after his predecessor was accused of sexual harassment, just months before then commissioner Yohanan Danino was set to retire.
Good timing and hard work can take you far, and in Bentzi Sau’s case, almost all the way to the top. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had different plans, though. Looking to shake up the organization, he looked outside the police for someone with a clean slate, passing over Sau.
It was to be expected. After the past few years, during which public approval of the police all but hit rock bottom following one scandal after another, it made sense that Erdan would look outside the organization, leaving a candidate like Sau in a sense to pay for the wrongdoing of other officers. Picking a career officer like Sau could have sent the message that Erdan did not think the police were in need of a radical shake-up, an impression he sought to avoid.
Considering the way many in this country idolize spies and security officials, there was speculation that he’d find a former Shin Bet official or top IDF general, and in the end, he did just that. After unsuccessfully naming Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch, who was forced to withdraw, he tapped former Shin Bet deputy head Roni Alsheich to lead one of the most important public organizations in the country.
Something unexpected happened along the way though. At the beginning of October, the “stabbing intifada” began in earnest, and since then hardly a day has passed without multiple stabbing attacks targeting Israeli civilians and security personnel.
For the past two months the Israel Police has been on the frontlines of this wave of terrorism, during which it has earned a nickname often attributed to the Border Police – “the flak jacket of the country.”
Through it all, Sau has been the face of the Israel Police. During a time of fear and panic, vigilante attacks and politicians calling for a shoot-to-kill policy, Sau has been a calm, commanding, and professional presence.
Having commanded Border Police officers during the October 2000 riots when 13 Israeli Arabs and a Gaza man were shot dead by Israeli police snipers, Sau would have arguably faced an uphill battle reaching out to the Arab sector, the segment of Israeli society most in need of more and better police work. That said, one could make the case that being former deputy head of the Shin Bet won’t exactly endear Alsheich to the Arab population either.
Watching Sau before the cameras these past two months, and hearing him in recent briefings with crime reporters, the impression that is given is of a missed opportunity of sorts – the feeling, perhaps, that the best candidate may have been inside the police headquarters in Jerusalem the whole time.