Police Now Focusing on 'Top 400’ Israeli Criminals

Arrests of mafia leaders an indirect cause of recent killing spree.

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

Israel Police intelligence officers and investigators have compiled a list of the “Top 400” criminal suspects who are being monitored very closely in the hope they will either be caught committing a crime that leads to their arrest, or be dissuaded from continuing their criminal activities.

On the list are not just the leaders of crime families and their “foot soldiers,” but members of smaller gangs, cells, or even individuals who have become a significant factor in the increase in violent crime, including shootings and car bombings.

In recent years the police and other law enforcement bodies have succeeded in dealing major blows to the large criminal organizations that were generally organized by families. People like Assi Abutbul, Yitzhak Abergil, Yossi Musseli, Nivi Zagouri and Zeev Rosenstein are all behind bars; and many who were not jailed have left the country.

While the stronger leaders succeed in keeping their operations together by remote control, those who are less successful have found themselves losing men to other crime organizations, or watching as their former underlings set up their own local gangs.

This has led to a considerable amount of vengeful violence. One reason for the recent gangland slayings in Rishon Letzion, Holon and Bat Yam, police say, has been the desertion of foot soldiers from the Abergil organization to other gangs. In other cases, young hoodlums never join up with a major sponsor, deciding instead to try to carve out turf on their own.

This new situation is well illustrated by the examples of Yaniv Ben Shoshan and David Amoyal. Both were members of Yitzhak Abergil’s organization; for years they were his field operatives in the coastal plain region. But when Abergil was imprisoned, the two started to work independently, with each recruiting from the original organization to start his own gang. The tension resulting from their battles for control, as well as their battles against other gangs trying to seize former Abergil turf in the coastal region, has led to a series of assassinations and car bombings the likes of which Israel hasn’t seen for several years.

Many of those allegedly involved in the violence were previously unknown to police, or, if known, had never been associated with violent crime. One example is Hanoch Atzmon, who was arrested last November. A resident of Rosh Ha’ayin, Atzmon had previously been involved in gray market lending, but was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of two men at the Yarkonim junction. Police believe he now heads his own gang and operates with a few young men loyal to him.

This phenomenon is not just unique to the center of the country. The arrest of four men from the Haifa area who were in possession of a motorcycle load with an explosive device indicates the revival of a gang allegedly headed by brothers Yaakov and Golan Kakon.

Police orders are for local officers to “sit on the heads” of these 400, and recruit any other enforcement authorities to this end, whether it be traffic police, tax investigators, municipal inspectors or others.

Legal police “harassment” could be no more than stopping truckers working for criminals and making them unload their goods. Whether or not the goods are actually confiscated, police believe that constant flagging of such deliveries will disrupt the criminals’ supply chain and dissuade merchants from working with them.

Similarly, searches will be made of stores, cars parked on busy streets in full view of passersby, and other overt and covert activities.

Every police district, down to the local station level, was asked to map out those people and groups who stand out as major sources of crime in their areas. After the names were gathered, an effort was made to associate the criminals with crime organizations and gangs, to determine their major spheres of activity and whether they were in the midst of disputes that the police knew about, and what actions such disputes could lead to, including whether resulting confrontations could cause harm to innocent people.

A summary meeting is held every week at which each the senior commander reports on what had been accomplished that week against those on the Top 400 list. Overseeing the project is the head of the Investigations and Intelligence Branch, Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki, who receives ongoing reports from the districts.

The police, of course, know of far more than 400 criminals who they keep under varying degrees of surveillance. But these 400 are getting ongoing, intensive treatment so that each will understand that the police aren’t letting up on them.

“The idea here is to make a large number of criminals, who we know are criminals and who are violent and do damage, aware that we are going to make their lives difficult,” said a senior officer in the Investigations and Intelligence Branch. “These people will know that at any moment we can come down on them and ruin their day, even if they aren’t arrested or brought to the station for questioning.”