After years of calls for the establishment of an Israeli witness-protection program, the plan is expected to be operational by 2009, thereby dealing a serious blow to organized crime, the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee was told Monday. The committee held a session to prepare a bill aimed at clearing the path for the program's creation for a second and third reading in the Knesset. Police are keen to provide a safe location for at least 20 witnesses whose lives are at risk from criminal assassination attempts, Lt.-Cmdr. Varda Shaham told the committee. "We have had to give up on witnesses [in the past] because of the costs or other circumstances we could not deal with," she said. Aryeh Livna, head of the Witness Protection Authority, said: "At the start of 2009, assuming the bill is approved, we can begin to receive the first witnesses. In the first stage, the Authority will prepare to receive 20 witnesses, and the scope could become larger throughout the years." "For every moment that there is no witness protection program in Israel, the fight against crime is not at its best," he said. "In 2007, the scope of organized crime was evaluated at NIS 13 billion. Even if we eliminate just one percent of that, we will remove access to a sum that can fund the activities of the Witness Protection Authority. The Authority will significantly increase the fight against organized crime." Committee chairman Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) vowed to work to quickly to pass the bill. "The feeling today is that witnesses are afraid to testify because they fear for their lives, and criminals aren't afraid to threaten people who can incriminate them," he said. Paz-Pines expressed hope that a witness-protection program would have as much of an impact on severe crime as DNA evidence had on solving crimes. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said, "Our aim is to set up the Witness Protection Authority by the end of 2008 and to provide protection in the form of a personal security unit." Criminals did not shy away from any means of keeping witnesses from testifying, he said. Tentative steps toward establishing of a witness-protection program were taken in 2002, when a committee was created by State Attorney Moshe Lador, who at the time served as Jerusalem district attorney. The Lador Committee called for setting up an independent body to deal with witness security. In 2006, the government approved the founding of the Witness Protection Authority as a working unit within the Public Security Ministry.