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(photo credit: Ori Porat)
After months of nervous anticipation on the part of Israel Police's top brass, the shoe will drop Sunday morning with the publication of the Zeiler Commission's findings.
The report is said to be highly critical of police procedure and management, and while it seemed unlikely Thursday that the report itself would recommend the resignation of the police's top brass, the pressure to restore public confidence in the police could end up bringing about their removal.
Officers at the National Headquarters expressed their feelings Thursday that it was unlikely that Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi would have to resign as a result of the findings, in spite of the fact that the top cop's name of has been bandied about throughout the commission's hearings. Still, the final call as to the police chief's future would depend not simply on the report itself, but on the decision of Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.
Dichter has been adamant as to his goal of restoring public faith in the police, and it is possible that even if the commission does not recommend Karadi's dismissal, his career could end early to prove that the minister is serious about cleaning up the force.
The most likely officers to receive career-ending castigations from the report itself were those at the mid-tier, the members of a group of assistant commanders who participated in the mudslinging that characterized the commission's hearings.
Police headquarters was, however, bracing for findings that reflected negatively on the organization of the police, which has suffered blow after blow in recent months as Israel's law enforcement community bounced from scandal to scandal.
The commission, led by former district court judge Vardi Zeiler, is charged with reviewing one of those scandals - the six-year investigation into the 1999 murder of underworld figure Pinhas Buhbout. Police believe that southern crime bosses Oded and Sharon Perinian hired former policeman Tzahi Ben-Or to murder Buhbout while the latter was recuperating from a previous attempt on his life. Ben-Or later entered into negotiations to serve as a state's witness against the Perinians, but fled the country and was murdered in Mexico in 2004.
In May, the commission generated what one senior police officer described as "an earthquake shaking the police" as it distributed letters of warning to senior officials, accusing the police, the District Attorney's office, and the Justice Ministry's Police Investigative Department of serious failures in their handling of issues surrounding the investigations into the murders of Ben-Or and Buhbout. Those warning letters came in place of an interim findings report, and indicated the officers most likely to receive negative citations from the commission.
Karadi, Jerusalem District Commander Cmdr. Ilan Franco, PID head Herzl Shviro, former Southern District commander and current Yisrael Beiteinu MK Yitzhak Aharonovich and Southern District Attorney Iska Leibowitz all received letters warning them that the commission's conclusions were likely to be damaging to them.
But the harshest criticism was reserved for Asst.-Cmdr. Yoram Levy and Ch.-Insp. Reuven Gilboa, cited by the commission as having "problematic relationships" with the Perinian crime family. The report cited nighttime meetings with the criminals held at the officers' houses, direct contact between the Perinians and the officers, who would do occasional "favors," closing criminal cases against the Perninian brothers, and even what the report described as "telephone contacts at the time of the attempted murder of Ben-Or and in connection to police raids on the Perinians' casino."
But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the warning letters were published. In the ensuing nine months, all of the officials who received warning letters hired legal counsel, who argued their clients' positions through both friendly and hostile questioning sessions held during a second round of hearings.
Levy's and Gilboa's shared defense attorney Boaz Ben-Tsur went far in recent months to discredit Levy and Gilboa's detractors as jealous rivals for key police positions.
In addition, district prosecutors have recently plea-bargained off some of the key criminals involved in the original scandals - the murders of Buhbout and Ben-Or. The Perinian brothers, Oded and Sharon, will each serve as little as 20 months in prison after the DA's dropped the charges last week against them for Buhbout's 1999 murder.
Two weeks before that, the two underworld figures fingered by police as the alleged murderers of Ben-Or were sentenced to four and eight years of prison, respectively, after pleading guilty on drastically reduced terms, with the DA's office once again agreeing to strike the murder charges from their rap sheets.