The race to be police commissioner

Three top candidates for top post expected to be announced this week.

By
August 9, 2015 16:02
Police

Israeli Police. (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

 
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This week Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is expected to announce his candidate to head the Israel Police, who among other things, is to be tasked with repairing the public image of one of the country’s most important public organizations.

It has been through a series of embarrassing and high-profile scandals in recent years, including sexual misconduct investigations against a series of top commanders.

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Though there has been speculation that an outside appointment could be made – possibly from the IDF or elsewhere in the security establishment, the next chief is expected to be one of three candidates from within the police – acting Commissioner and Tel Aviv Commander Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau, Northern District Commander Asst.-Ch. Zohar Dvir and Southern District Commander Asst.-Ch. Yoram Halevy.

In 2008’s You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Adam Sandler plays a famed Israeli commando named Zohan Dvir, who leaves the special forces behind to make it as a hair stylist in the US. While the makers of Zohan never confirmed whether or not they were inspired at all by Asst.-Ch. Zohar Dvir – who keeps his hair closely shorn – it would make sense if they were drawn to his story.

The 50-year-old father of three from Kiryat Tivon isn’t a wannabe hair stylist, but he does look like the type of guy you want with you in a bar fight, or for that matter, during a hostage rescue.

A former major in the Golani Brigade, at age 34 he joined the police and commanded a platoon of officers in the YAMAM unit, widely considered the top counterterrorism unit in Israel.

Two years later, in 2001, he was made commander of the unit, just as the second intifada was breaking out, when it was the spear tip of counterterrorism operations across the Palestinian territories and inside Israel.



He served more than five years as the head of the Counterterrorism Unit.

In 2007 he was made commander of the Valleys subdistrict; in 2011 he became an assistant chief and headed the logistics branch of the Northern District; and in 2014 he was made commander of the Northern District.

Since former Coastal District commander Hagai Dotan was removed from service in February due to sexual misconduct allegations, Dvir has been the acting commander of that district as well.

Dvir could be an appealing choice as a no-nonsense, tough and battle-tested commander who people follow when he speaks. His persona and his bio as an elite-counterterrorist commando could help police repair their public image that has taken a beating in recent years – at least until the next scandal.

Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau has already been in the top spot since July 1, when he was made acting commissioner until the next head of the Israel Police is named. Sau is a very accomplished, well-regarded commander, but he was in the right place at the right time.

Sau was already serving as the next in line to then-Insp.- Gen. Yohanan Danino, following the forced resignation of Asst.-Ch. Nissim Mor in February, due to a sexual harassment investigation.

Mor, then second in command to Danino, was the most senior officer yet to be named in a sexual misconduct investigation.

Sau, 54, served in the Border Police from 1977 to 2006.

He was the divisional brigade commander for the Northern Command of the Border Police between the years 1996 and 2001, during which his name first made headlines.

Sau held the post during the outbreak of the October 2000 riots, when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by security forces during melees and protests at the beginning of the second intifada. Sau himself was the commander of the Border Police forces in Wadi Ara, where two Israeli Arabs and a Gaza man would be shot dead by Israeli police snipers during a riot at the entrance to Umm el-Fahm.

In 2003, the Orr Commission – founded to examine the conduct of Israeli security forces throughout the disturbances, ruled that Sau violated police guidelines by sending his officers into the city to battle rioters and that he was responsible for the sniper fire, as the commanding officer. They ordered that he not be promoted for four years.

In June, when Sau’s appointment as acting commissioner was announced, there were voices of protest from Arab Israelis, including from the Joint List, which in a statement called for him to not be appointed to the post because of his role in the October 2000 clashes, saying it would “constitute an affront to the Arab public.”

After he left the Border Police, he joined the operations branch of the Public Security Ministry in 2006 and four years later, appointed head of the Central District, the largest in Israel and home to areas that traditionally have been some of the most difficult for police, including Lod, Ramle, the Triangle and Netanya.

In June 2013, Sau was appointed to the second- most marquee position in the police – the head of the Tel Aviv District. Within days of his appointment, his officers announced that they had solved the 2009 Bar Noar murders, the most high-profile case of the district, only to see the case fall apart the next year. The district has dealt with a series of underworld killings in public, which turned up the heat on the Sau.

If he is made police chief, Sau’s appointment could be seen as an affront to the Arab-Israeli public, or at least a message that a past history of controversy involving police misuse of force against Arabs is a hurdle that police officers can overcome on their way to the top.

His appointment would also be the culmination of a hard-fought career in some of the toughest jobs in the Israel Police force, by a man who for the most part has avoided the spotlight.

When Zohar Dvir left his post as head of the Counterterrorism Unit, he handed over the keys to another hardnosed commander who might just be the next chief of police.

Southern District Police Commander Asst.-Ch. Yoram Halevy fought with the paratroopers in the First Lebanon War (1982) and after his discharge joined the anti-terrorism unit. He was wounded in the Mothers’ Bus Attack in 1988, when terrorists hijacked a bus carrying 11 passengers to work at the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona. The Counterterrorism Unit stormed the bus and killed the three hijackers, but not before the terrorists executed a female hostage.

The Jerusalem native later commanded the “Mistaravim” undercover unit of the Border Police in the West Bank during the second intifada, before he was made commander of the special investigative unit of the Jerusalem police and in 2003, head of the David subdistrict, responsible for the Old City. In 2005 he was made commander of the Border Police in Jerusalem and in 2007 returned to the Counterterrorism Unit as its commander.

In 2009, at the same time he was commanding the most elite anti-terror unit of the police, he was also appointed to head LAHAV 433, “Israel’s FBI,” and the most prestigious investigative unit of the organization.

After a stint heading the community and volunteer police branch, he was appointed head of the Border Police in 2010, and in November 2012, head of the Southern District of the Israel Police.

Halevy’s career has seen him command some of the most elite units of the Israel Police during some of the most difficult days in Israel from a security standpoint, including the second intifada.

The police bomb squads are responsible for dealing with rocket and mortar strikes, and since Halevy was made head of the Southern District, Israel’s South has been battered in two separate wars between Israel and Hamas, including Pillar of Defense, which began the same month that he took the post, and last summer, Operation Protective Edge, which saw southern Israel hit by rocket and mortar attacks for 50 days, as well as an ever-present high alert for infiltration attacks by Hamas gunmen.

Halevy’s term as Southern District commander has not been without controversy for the police. In January, Beduin areas of the district were aflame after a Rahat man was shot and killed during a drug raid, and the next day, another Beduin died as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at angry mourners and rioters. The district has had to deal with past rioting over the country’s controversial Prawer Plan for the relocation of Negev Beduin.

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