Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced on Thursday that he will replace Police Commssioner Roni Alsheikh at the end of his term, which is set to expire this year. The change comes in the midst of police investigations into corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Erdan announced possible replacements for Alsheikh as national police chief, citing "differences of opinion" with Alsheikh as a reason for not extending his term an additional year.
It wasn't clear how, if at all, Alsheikh's departure might affect investigations of Netanyahu.
Alsheikh has overseen probes into suspected wrongdoing by the prime minister during his three-year term, which could have been extended by a year by Erdan.
Israeli police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, calling the investigations a "witch hunt."
Minister Erdan announced the names of three candidates to take up the position of police commissioner at a press conference in Bnei Brak Thursday.
They are Jerusalem District Commander Dep. Commissioner Yoram Halevy, Tel Aviv District Commander Dep. Commissioner David Bitan, and retired Dep. Commissioner Moshe Edri.
"The police commissioner and I spoke for almost two hours about the development of the police force in recent years and regarding its future, and we agreed to continue our cooperation until the end of his term," Erdan said.
"In 2015, when I was appointed minister of public security, I received responsibility over the police force that was going through a crisis of trust with the public, and almost half of its senior command staff was forced to resign under embarrassing circumstances," Erdan recalled.
Erdan detailed his achievements with Alsheikh and said that "the last three years under my tenure as minister and under the command of Alsheikh were challenging and complex, but high in achievements."
"The police dealt with a new wave of terror in Jerusalem. The Border Police became the most sought-after unit. Enforcement on the roads was expanded, new police units have been established, violence in sports has been fought,” he said as he listed his achievements.
Erdan said he did not regret having appointed Alsheikh as police commissioner. "However, the commissioner and I also had differences of opinion, and there were also differences in approach on various issues, some of which were substantial and weighty issues that in my eyes had a significant impact on the public’s confidence in the police," Erdan said.
"The law does not determine the duration of the term of office. Extending the term of police commissioner is essentially an exceptional decision,” he added.
Erdan insisted that he had not informed anyone in advance about his candidates for the post, saying: "I did not update the prime minister or my fellow cabinet ministers. I received instructions from the attorney general and stuck to them.”
Opposition Knesset members criticized Erdan’s decision not to extend the term of the police commissioner by an additional year arguing that it stemmed from political considerations.
Opposition head MK Tzipi Livni said that the law should be changed so that a full term is four years, removing the option of extending the tenure of senior officials. “The law must allow the heads of the military and police to be independent without the option of a term extension being dangled in front of them,” she argued.
Zionist Union Chairman Avi Gabbay accused the Likud party of engaging in a conflict against democracy and the rule of law and asserted that associates of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is currently under investigation, should not be involved in the matter of the future of the police.
Yesh Atid Chairman MK Yair Lapid also chimed in, tweeting that the sole reason Alsheikh’s term is not being extended is because the “prime minister prefers a convenient commissioner, one who will not investigate him.”
Minister Erdan rejected the opposition’s criticism and accusations, however. "I have seen politicians who are trying to ride this decision so that the public remembers that they exist. Anyone who tries to attribute political considerations to this matter has a political interest," he lashed back.
Regarding the leaks of the candidates' polygraph test results, the minister said that these were routine checks that were conducted with no connection to the process of appointing a police commissioner.
"I think that this is a serious violation of the privacy of the subjects. Beyond the possible attempt to disrupt the selection process, I very much hope that an investigation will be carried out on this matter. I want to assume that the three candidates, who served for decades in the ranks of the police, are qualified," said Erdan.
According to the minister, the main task of the police is to reduce the level of crime in the Arab sector.
During the next police commissioner’s term, Erdan said that body cameras will be worn by police officers in order to increase transparency and the discipline of police officers.