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Israel will have a witness protection program in place and running by January 2008, Internal Security Ministry Avi Dichter said on Tuesday.
"The establishment of the Witness Protection Authority is critical to the struggle against serious crime and crime organizations," Dichter said during a morning meeting with the ministry's top staff.
The authority will be led by Aryeh Livneh, who spent 27 years - over half his life - in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). He was selected by a ministerial committee out of a pool of 27 applicants in late January, and has had six weeks to draft his plans for the new organization.
Livneh presented the minister with a timetable and plans for the establishment of the authority, the formulation of the organizational strategy and structure, programs for approval of regulations, the logistical structure including the secure housing and finally the recruitment of guards.
Livneh also presented plans for a bill to formalize the authority's responsibilities.
Although Livneh's timetable called for the first witnesses to enter protection in May 2007, Dichter overruled the director, telling him that he expected the authority to begin to guard witnesses starting in January 2008.
During the meeting, the minister also reported that the US Marshals Service, which runs the Witness Protection Program in the US, was willing to "cooperate and assist in the establishment" of its Israeli counterpart. Dichter asked Livneh to set up a meeting with the Americans and to accept any assistance that they might offer.
In October, during Dichter's first official visit as minister to Washington, he tried to hammer out cooperation in witness protection programs.
Cooperation between the two countries had been seen as a linchpin in the establishment of the program, as the geographical limitations of Israel have made it very difficult to offer witnesses - particularly those testifying against organized crime syndicates - protection.
Dichter said police must be stronger than crime syndicates, and one key tool is a witness protection program.
It has been 14 months since the 2006 government decision to establish a witness protection authority for Israel under the auspices of the Internal Security Ministry. According to the government mandate, the authority will be the sole authority responsible for the protection of high-risk witnesses.