Last month, when reporters reacted skeptically to Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter's chances for winning the Kadima primary, he promised them that his campaign would contain "surprises."
He was right - but the surprise was on him.
It wasn't supposed to work out this way for Dichter - being roasted by the media for his handling of the Uri Bar-Lev matter in the midst of the Kadima leadership race.
When the wonder-boy of the Shin Bet (General Security Agency) became minister with authority over the Israel Police two years ago, his appointment was hailed as one of the better cabinet postings of the new Kadima government, a step up from other recent holders of the position.
For one thing, his extensive security background made him qualified for the job - unlike a career diplomat such as Shlomi Ben-Ami, whose lack of experience in the field became glaringly evident when the Israel-Arab riots of 2000 exploded on his watch and the police seemed unprepared both for the event and its aftermath, And for another, Dichter himself was never the subject of a police investigation - in contrast to Tzahi Hanegbi, who already had been awarded that particular (dis)honor before being given the ministry in 2003, only to have to relinquish it shortly afterwards after yet another inquiry was opened against him.
In contrast, Dichter seemed tailor-made for the task of reforming a police force that seemed hide-bound in its approach, beset by internal politics, and overwhelmed by the rising tide of organized crime. His willingness at the Shin Bet to utilize innovative methods in the field and prescient early support for the construction of the security fence rightly earned him considerable credit for helping to beat down the second intifada.
In addition, his ability to handle the media while in a sensitive positive which until recent years had been entirely shielded from public exposure by official censorship, made him an electoral asset for Kadima and put him on an inside track to one day attain its leadership.
No longer. It's only the residue of Dichter's earlier political promise that has him competing in a primary battle that polls show him no chance of winning - along with a desire of improving his position by performing better than expected in the Kadima race. That's unlikely to happen now given the fall-out of the Bar-Lev affair. Although Dichter bears no blame for the inopportune timing of this matter, he has to take the full rap both for creating the seeds of this fiasco, and his subsequent inept response to it.
His indecisive approach is reminiscent of his attempt last year to reach outside the "cop shop" for a new police inspector-general to replace the outgoing Moshe Karadi. In principle the idea was sound, given the complacency that had crept into the police hierarchy at a time when new energies and thinking were required to cope with law enforcement challenges the force seemed ill-prepared to handle.
But Dichter's handling of the search for Karadi's successor was ham-fisted; word leaked out of those candidates who turned him down, while the one who didn't - former Prisons Service Chief Warden Ya'acov Ganot - turned out to be a controversial choice because of past corruption allegations, and whose selection did not survive the legal challenges against it. In the wake of the Ganot misstep Dichter seemed to hurriedly backtrack on his original intention, and quickly appointed instead Central District commander David (Dudi) Cohen - exactly the kind of police career insider it had been his original intention to avoid.
It's hardly a surprise then that Cohen is now acting exactly true to form, shuffling the reassignment of district commanders in a way as to prolong the tenures of subordinates he perceives as loyal to his leadership, while trying to sideline via an enforced study leave the one he perceives as not: Southern District Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, widely regarded as the type of effective and innovative office the police badly need nowadays.
This situation has put Dichter in an unenviable position: Having put Cohen in place, it would certainly reflect ill on his own judgment, and win him even further enmity from the police establishment, if he now fails to back him in this dispute.
Conversely, by declining to support Bar-Lev's refusal to meekly go along with the kind of police office-politicking-as-usual that Dichter had pledged to stop, makes him look like an ineffectual hypocrite.
It's a no-win situation - but the kind that more experienced and deft political leaders have to contend with all the time. Unfortunately, Dichter is just the latest former star of the security establishment to be parachuted into politics, only to learn that tracking down Palestinian terrorists and running an organization that operates largely out of the public eye, provides little experience of use for this type of management issue.
Not surprisingly, Dichter's solution so far has been to simply kick this hot potato down the road by putting Bar-Lev on a one-month leave-of-absence, conveniently delaying any final decision over his professional fate until after the Kadima primary.
But the damage has been done. On a day when his rivals for the party leadership campaigned by dropping into classrooms on the first day of the school year, Dichter earned a failing grade in his latest lesson in politics and governance.