Analysis: Erdan’s gamble on Hirsch as police chief was a losing bet

After a month in the spotlight it’s understandable that former IDF commander would feel wronged when his candidacy was finally, mercifully put to sleep.

Gal Hirsch (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Gal Hirsch
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Gal Hirsch is a wounded man and sounded like one Thursday morning. Standing outside his Rosh Ha’ayin home, he spoke of a campaign of defamation and unnamed power brokers working behind the scenes to ruin his chances to be Israel’s next top cop.
After a month in the spotlight it’s understandable that he would feel wronged when his candidacy was finally, mercifully put to sleep, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that it was a problematic appointment from day one, and always in doubt.
Hirsch first became a household name of sorts in Israel almost a decade ago, when he came under fire for his conduct as an IDF division commander during the Second Lebanon war and was forced to resign. Though the Winograd Commission set up to probe the war cleared him of wrongdoing, the damage was done and in the minds of much of the public, a question mark would remain next to Hirsch’s name.
Though there was some expectation that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan would select a candidate from within the police or elsewhere in the law enforcement establishment, it was not entirely surprising that he would pick an outsider, especially one with a security background – just not one like Hirsch.
The commissioner to follow Yohanan Danino after he retired on July 1 will inherit an organization that has been racked by a series of high-profile sex scandals and corruption cases among senior officers.
The selection of an outsider indicated Erdan’s desire to think differently and find someone who would shake up the force.
Picking Hirsch also indicated that Erdan was not overly concerned about criticism from the high command of the organization, and would not shy away from butting heads with them. For an organization whose public image is in the gutter, this could have been a step in the right direction.
Still, if you’re going to make a gamble on a candidate from outside the organization, it’s best if the odds are in your favor. Picking a former IDF commander whose name is associated with the failures of the Second Lebanon War does not help the odds, particularly if the candidate has also spent the past few years in the private sector running a security company which was mentioned in an international corruption probe.
For an organization which has been the subject of near constant scrutiny and criticism in recent years, question marks like these must be avoided.
A number of former, celebrated IDF officers were reportedly offered the position, but turned it down. This was most likely due not only to concern about the difficult job they would face mending the organization, but perhaps because they were more interested in more lucrative work in the private sector, not to mention the low prestige of the Israel Police.
It turns out the post is not a sought after dream appointment, unless you’re a career police officer looking to head the organization.
Before Hirsch’s nomination was announced, there were three candidates from the Israel Police who were repeatedly named as likely successors to Danino: Asst.-Ch. Zohar Dvir, commander of the Northern District, acting commissioner Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau, and Southern District Police commander Asst.-Ch. Yoram Halevy.
All three are career officers who have served in some of the most challenging and prestigious posts in the organization, but Erdan rolled the dice, picking a talented and ambitious former brigadier-general who would rock the boat.
There is some likelihood that Erdan may in the end nominate Sau, which would be a sort of police equivalent of the appointment of Bank of Israel Gov. Karnit Flug, who was finally chosen for the position after a series of previous nominees failed the vetting process.
Picking Sau would send a signal that Erdan is not looking to radically shake things up, and that he trusts the old guard to right the ship.
While that may not be the recipe for what ails the Israel Police, after nearly three months without a successor to Danino, each passing day wears on the reputation of the force. While Erdan may gamble again, for sake of the country, this time one hopes he will make a safer bet.