Outgoing Deputy Director of the Shin Bet internal security service, Ronny Alsheikh, 52, leaves a job which emowered him to pick up a phone and order an undercover unit to go after a high-profile terrorist. But as new Commissioner of Police, he will function, like in most democracies, in the toils of a labyrinthine system of rules, restrictions, civilian and media oversight and politics.
The Shin Bet is like fellow security, espionage and intelligence agencies, in that it enjoys untrammeled access to the Interior Ministry’s files containing the personal data of every Israeli citizen, resident and visitor, such as addresses, dates of birth and death, marital status, criminal and other police records, travel movements and also their communications by cell phone and e-mail.
This access is allowed under the law defining the agency’s top missions as being to catch spies and combat homeland terrorism.
But as police chief, Alsheikh will have to function in a far stricter legal, administrative, technological, operational, organizational and budgetary framework. For coping with the mammoth tasks of fighting crime, preserving the peace on the streets and highways and catching and bringing malefactors to justice, the tools at his disposal are a tiny fraction of the resources he is used to.
The same comedown applies to the quality of manpower available compared the high quality of operatives for intelligence-gathering and analyses available to the secret services.
In this respect, while every police commissioner lives in a chronic state of war over budget with the Treasury, Alsheikh will need to focus on improving the wage scale offered the men in blue for their often thankless tasks.
But above all, he must work fast to bring the organization up to date on the technological dimensions of police work, which he will find badly lagging. This contrasts sharply with the advances made by Israel’s clandestine services, including Military Intelligence (AMAN), which are running ahead with innovative technology and have incorporated it into the front line of their operations at all levels – from strategic planning to execution. Tech whizzes today occupy top positions in the security services, often ranking as second in command and are closely integrated in top-level decision-making.
In the police force, the technology director is subordinate to the Deputy Commissioner, and is low on the organization’s pecking order – below its organization’s disciplinary and appeals tribunals, ombudsman and security section. His office is tucked away at a Jerusalem address and the manpower he employs usually consists of temporary staff hired from civilian employment agencies.
Bringing police technology up to scratch will take time and money.
In many fields, such as the war on terror and Palestinian lawlessness, the duties of the police and Shin Bet often overlap. It will be up to Alsheikh to ascertain that collaboration between the two organizations runs smoothly and efficiently. Working now from a new perspective in the police commissioner's chair, he will have to muster the goodwill and superior technology and intelligence of his former colleagues to make the police force as an effective instrument for fighting crime as the undercover agencies are for fighting terrorism.