Police cordon off a crime scene
File photo: Israel Police cordon off a crime scene. Photo by Archive
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The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv expressed concern to the State Department over the "sharp increase" of organized crime in Israel, in an unclassified diplomatic cable dispatched in May 2009 and revealed by WikiLeaks this week.

Entitled "Israel, a promise land for organized crime?", the cable notes that while organized crime has "long-standing roots" in Israel, certain factors indicate that a "widening crime war" has begun to spiral.

"In seeking a competitive advantage in such lucrative trades as narcotics and prostitution, Israeli crime groups have demonstrated their ability and willingness to engage in violent attacks on each other with little regard for innocent bystanders," said the cable.

The cable cites the death of 31-year-old Margarita Lautin, who was killed in the cross-fire of an attempted mob hit in Bat Yam, and also car bomb that killed a driver and two pedestrians while targeting crime boss Yossi Alperon.

The document also details the web of crime families in Israel, and expresses concern that the number of syndicates was growing.

The cable is signed by Ambassador James Cunningham, but appears to have been written by the American consul in Tel Aviv as a note on visa restrictions for members of Israel's organized crime syndicate.

The cable details worry that Israeli crime syndicates were playing a "significant role in the global drug trade, providing both a local consumer market and an important transit point to Europe and the United States."

"Given the volume of travel and trade between the United States and Israel, it is not surprising that Israeli OC has also gained a foothold in America," says the cable.

"The consular section has revoked several visas for those who have been convicted of crimes in Israel, but many OC figures have no prior criminal convictions and carry no visa ineligibilities," says the cable. "As a result, many hold valid nonimmigrant visas to the United States and have traveled freely or attempted to travel for a variety of purposes."

The author of the cable seems most worried by the fact that unlike members of crimes families from other countries, "Israelis who are known to work for or belong to OC families are not automatically ineligible for travel to the United States."

The cable also notes a lack of law enforcement against organized crime, though it said police seemed to have been cracking down more in recent years.

"[Organized Crime] figures have generally been viewed as a nuisance to be handled by local police," writes the cable. "Law enforcement resources were directed to more existential security threats from terrorists and enemy states," writes the cable.

"In recent years, however, the rules of the game have changed… The old school of Israel OC is giving way to a new, more violent, breed of crime," says the cable."… The new style of crime features knowledge of hi-tech explosives acquired from service in the Israeli Defense Forces, and a willingness to use indiscriminate violence, at least against rival gang leaders."

Despite the police crackdown and harsher sentences for members of crime syndicates, the cable warns that "increased efforts by Israeli authorities to combat OC have engendered retaliatory threats of violence."

"Recent press reports indicate that as many as 10 Israeli judges are currently receiving 24-hour protection by the police against the threat of violence from members of crime organizations.

"Israeli OC appears to be intent on intimidating judges personally, as a way of influencing the legal process. Judges in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa have been assigned police protection, underscoring the depth of the problem."