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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
With three months left before general elections, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government on Sunday decided to step up its fight against crime and approved the recruitment of 1,500 new policemen, the establishment of a new anti-organized crime authority and the establishment of a witness protection program.
"The war against crime needs to be like the war on terror," Sharon said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting. "This issue will stay on the cabinet's agenda for the coming years."
The first initiative approved by the cabinet was the reinforcement of the police force by sending 1,510 new soldiers to carry out their military service in the Israel Police and not the IDF.
Speaking to police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi who attended the cabinet meeting and Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, Sharon said that while he was aware that the police needed reinforcements, he also expected that it underwent a series of internal reforms.
"It is necessary that the police undergo reforms," the prime minister said. "The entire business sector is in the process of undergoing reforms to improve itself and the police force needs to do the same."
The cabinet also approved the establishment of an anti-organized crime authority to be led by Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, Karadi and officials from the Justice Ministry and the Tax Authority.
The goal, officials said Sunday, was to enhance the level of cooperation between all of the different law enforcement agencies. Cmdr. Dudi Cohen - head of Police Intelligence and Investigations - will head up a similar team which will include members of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Mossad and will implement the different directives it receives from the authority.
The authority, officials said, was based on a similar model to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) in England which is made up of representatives from various law-enforcement agencies.
"The only way to dismantle criminal organizations is by cutting off their oxygen supply which is essentially their money," said the new head of the Tax Authority Jacky Matza. "The criminal organizations operate like corporations and the only way to really bring them down is by going after them on police-related crimes together with tax-related crimes."
The cabinet on Sunday also approved the establishment of a witness protection program which will be subordinate to the Internal Security Ministry. The program, which officials said would be operational by 2007, will supply protection and new identities to approximately 100 witnesses a year who would otherwise not be willing to testify against Israeli criminals.
The establishment of the authority was based on recommendations made by a committee led by former Jerusalem district attorney Moshe Lador and includes moving witnesses to countries abroad and changing their identities with the possibility of plastic surgery. In November, Ezra met with Hungarian Interior Minister Monika Lamperth in Budapest and reached an agreement that would allow Israeli witnesses to relocate to Hungary.
"We need this authority to get people to testify," Director General of the Internal Security Ministry Brig.-Gen. (res.) Rani Falk said. "There are many cases when people are afraid to testify since they are threatened, and as a result the prosecution needs to change its indictment or the criminals are acquitted."
Immediately after Sharon announced his anti-crime plan in the cabinet meeting, Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz called a press conference at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters to reveal the party's own plans for fighting crime. Peretz presented the plan along with former Jerusalem police chief Aryeh Amit who is running for a slot on the Labor list for the Knesset.
Gil Hoffman contributed to the report.