Can Israel Wipe Out Its Organized Crime Rings?

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Investigators examine remains of car that exploded in suspected criminal hit. Credit: David Bachar

The name Yehezkel Aslan was well known to anyone wearing a blue police uniform during the 1970s, and to the general public as well. Aslan took over the gray-market loan business, and profited from sending tourist groups to Turkey to gamble. His name, featured countless times in the crime coverage of Israeli newspapers, was one of the “list of 11,” the top figures in Israeli crime during the period.

One of his rivals was Ze’ev Rosenstein, a younger man whom Aslan fought fiercely during the 1990s. Aslan was murdered in 1993, and Rosenstein was immediately suspected, becoming the Israel Police’s most wanted man.

On Tuesday it was cleared for publication that dozens of members of organized crime have been arrested, including crime bosses Itzik and Meir Abergil, as well as Avi Rohan. The suspects, belonging to the Abergil crime family, are suspected of murdering three passersby during a 2003 attempt on Rosenstein’s life, as well as drug trafficking. Police say the arrests have led to the solving of two attempts on Rosenstein’s life, as well as the murder of mafia criminal Micha Ben Harush in 2005, who has been listed as missing ever since.

Though most crime-watchers aren’t questioning the police’s success in this case, they also know that the vacuum created won’t last long. Even after organized crime boss Rosenstein was arrested and extradited to the United States in 2006, the title “Israel’s most wanted” wasn’t orphaned for long. The organization led by Itzik Abergil stepped up, and led a bloody war on what remained of Rosenstein’s outfit. Last week indictments were issued against senior figures in a Tel Aviv crime family led by Yossi Mousli, many of whom were involved in clashes with the Abergil family.

A close examination of Israeli organized crime shows just how financially tempting it is. The crime families compete in a few large businesses, including gray-market loans, sports betting, drug trafficking, protection, brothels and bottle recycling. Experts estimate that the yearly value of all underworld activities stands at about 20 billion shekels ($5.2 billion). Some would even say 30 billion shekels, if the relatively new field of cybercrime is included.

Police believe there are currently 12 major crime families in Israel – the majors being those whose organization is sophisticated. “An organization needs to be hierarchical, needs to be divided into a financial branch and an organizational or operational branch,” said Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki, head of the police Investigations and Intelligence Unit, in October 2013.

The Israel Police’s successes against organized crime have been primarily in cases where the family boss is the central figure, and the organization cannot survive without him. Such was the fate of the Abutbul crime family in Netanya, after its leader Felix Abutbul was killed, and none of his sons managed to fill his shoes. Asi Abutbul, one of his sons, tried to take over but was convicted and jailed along with many of his associates, such that the Abutbuls’ organization faded away.

Another example is the Alperon crime ring, whose leader, Yaakov Alperon was murdered in 2008. According to police, he had a dispute with Amir Molner’s crime syndicate, and the Alperon family was wiped off the map.

Rosenstein, Alperon, Molner and other, similar stories reflect another way of doing away with organized crime: letting the families wipe each out.

Molner currently sits atop the Israel Police’s most wanted list. Molner’s organization is a descendant of a gang led by Yossi Harari. Molner is in trouble these days. In recent years, he has divided his time between South Africa and Thailand, where he meets with his Israeli associates, avoiding Israel due to outstanding warrants.Another name often heard in police briefing rooms is Avi Rohan, once a solider in the Abergil family. Rohan focuses his activity in the Sharon region, primarily in Petah Tikva. His name was in headlines recently when someone slated to testify against him was mysteriously killed.

Another figure known to the police is Shalom Domrani, nicknamed “Black.” Domrani is dominant in southern Israel. Some of his associates have been harmed recently in car bombings, as he has been fighting a war against an organization based in Rehovot and the Lachish area.

Right now the largest, most influential organization in the country is the one headed by Mousli. It is expected to overcome the indictments issued against members last week, largely over money his family receives from businesses abroad, a Romanian casino.

“Crime is like cutting your fingernails,” said a senior police official on Monday. “We clip them every day, but they keep growing. So we keep clipping. Crime will continue, it will attract new people, and we will continue trying to get them.”

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