Criminal No. 1

The police take the manifold activities of crime organizations seriously, but there are plenty of other crimes competing for their attention.

A police balloon occasionally hovers above Shalom Domrani's estate in Moshav Otzem. Domrani's attorneys claim it undermines their client's privacy. Anyone would assume the balloon is photographing the house. Maybe it is also intended to record conversations within his home.

In the technological war between the Israel Police and organized crime, a surveillance balloon like the one the Israel Defense Forces uses to observe Gaza could change the balance of powers somewhat. But the balloon in the sky over the Domrani compound is a child's toy, tied to a pole with a thin string, that was purchased by an officer at a toy store during a moment of inspiration. The distress it produced is a an indication of its success - in disturbing the police target's peace of mind.

Margalit Tzan'ani.
Tal Shahar

Reality-show judge Margalit Tzan'ani entered the police radar by chance, when they intercepted her conversations with criminals. The investigators then received court permission to allocate listening posts to the entertainer.

The Combating Criminal Organizations Law applies to "a person who heads a criminal organization, or a person who ... directly or indirectly manages, organizes, directs or supervises activities in a criminal organization or ... directly or indirectly finances a criminal organization's activities, receives financing to run the organization, or decides how to distribute funds within the organization." The penalty for leading a criminal organization is 10 years in prison.

Shalom Domrani.
Moti Kimche

A veteran policeman was asked this week if Israeli crime has a single mastermind. As expected, he said no: There is no single command chain. So who is the country's No. 1 criminal? The policeman hesitated slightly before replying. Currently, in terms of sophistication, it's Amir Mulner, who is particularly cautious, he said. So despite the "supervision" (constant surveillance ) and the "sketching" (eavesdropping ), he hardly ever incriminates himself, which indicates that his communications channels are beyond police ears.

The elite police units go after the crime organizations: the national Lahav units for international, white-collar and financial crimes, and the districts' central units. Mulner lives in Tel Aviv, but he operates in multiple districts and is considered a national target. During the past decade, it was the Tel Aviv District central unit that played an important role in bringing down crime boss Ze'ev Rosenstein. It would be glad to add Mulner, his partners and his competitors to its achievement list.

Amir Mulner.
Ancho Gosh/Jini

The man who will soon be appointed to lead the Tel Aviv District central unit, Commander Gadi Eshed, has a clear philosophy for fighting organized crime, which years ago he described as "liable to become a serious strategic problem with a decisive effect on the structure of the government, democracy, quality of life and economic stability." It's not enough to upgrade technology, improve sources, and combine all the intelligence, investigative and prosecuting bodies into one system. New positions are needed in fields such as prosecution for financial crimes, where the files piling up in the hallways block detectives' paths.

Task list

But for those responsible for policing in general, crime organizations are only one item on the task list. Their list of the most serious crimes includes unsolved murders, like the one at the Bar Noar gay youth club in Tel Aviv two years ago, the investigation of which might be the most expensive in police history. A citizen who is attacked in broad daylight, shot or burglarized does not take much comfort in knowing that the Domrani-Tzan'ani axis was exposed.

On early Monday morning, Tel Aviv police chief Aharon Aksol was summoned to the Haoman 17 nightclub after a terrorist ran over policemen and stabbed guards. While Tzan'ani and her impresario were quarreling, Aksol was facing Haoman and intelligence warnings about riots. Police believe that, come September, riots could occur mainly in Jerusalem, the north (the Galilee, Wadi Ara ), and Arab towns in the center (Lod, Ramle and towns in the eastern Sharon ). But they could happen in the Tel Aviv District as well.

When he was summoned to Haoman, Aksol wondered whether the attack was a harbinger of events to come, or a singular incident. Nobody presumes to know. Tel Aviv is always a favorite destination for attackers.

The police are preparing for various scenarios, including clashes between Jaffa Arabs and right-wing extremists from Bat Yam. The challenge will be to separate the sides with minimal reinforcements, since most of the forces will be concentrated in other sectors.

The Or Commission, which investigated the October 2000 riots and deaths of protesters, paid almost no attention to what happened in Jaffa at that time. But the blow that was suffered by businesses in Jaffa in the months that followed should moderate flaring passions, even 11 years later. The Arab communities in Jaffa, Lod and Ramle have grown due to a new group of residents - thousands of Palestinian Shin Bet security service collaborators who were extricated from the territories. They and their families number in the tens of thousands; one figure says there are 60,000 of them. They make two contributions: They warn against organizers of trouble, and because everyone knows that, they also create deterrence.

The senior police commanders include a considerable number of former Border Policemen. Most of them were born in the late 1950s. During his army service, Aksol was a paratrooper, and taught infantry soldiers how to operate light anti-tank missiles. After a year as a civilian, he joined the police counterterrorism unit and advanced to become the unit's deputy commander. He has two bachelor's degrees and two master's degrees, in criminology, law and business administration. But his education has taught him, among other things, that there are "qualified lawyers who have never caught a thief."

At police headquarters, they are taking a moderate approach. Will the Arabs of Jaffa, or anywhere else in Israel, take to the streets to celebrate the UN decision to recognize Palestinian independence? If so, that is their right. Joyful parades do not require permits, and the police should intervene only to prevent violent clashes.

The police's basic assumption is that a public protest takes place, by its very nature, in public, and that it need not be handled by the top echelons. The Tel Aviv police are coordinating with the municipality. The wind is going out of the protesters' tents with a quiet whistle, but the local politicians are watching one another. Every mayor is waiting for his neighbor to ask the court for an eviction order for the tent camps, face a possible appeal and a 30-day postponement, and then call in the police to protect the inspectors. That's why they are preparing for an eviction, while hoping that before that's necessary, the protest leaders will declare victory and fold up on their own.