Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crime In The Streets

The murder of reputed mob boss Ya’acov Alperon on the streets of Tel Aviv was the latest in the audacious criminal acts carried out recently in Israel. Alperon, 54, was killed Monday afternoon when his private vehicle passed over a bomb at the corner of Pinkas Street and Namir Road in north Tel Aviv. He was on his way home from court, where two of his sons were on trial for extortion.

Several months ago a rival of Alperon’s was the target of a botched assassination attempt on the beaches of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv. The henchman escaped but a young Russian-immigrant mother was shot to death by an errant bullet.

According to press reports only a hundred to two hundred men make up the Israeli crime families. One opinion piece in the Haaretz newspaper claimed a clean sweep of the criminals from the streets of Israel would take a matter of hours.

Police sources confirmed that crime kingpin Amir Mulner is a central suspect in the investigation. Yitzhak and Meir Abergil, currently in police custody until their extradition to the United States, are also prime suspects. Last year Alperon was suspected of hiring foreign hit men to kill mob boss Abergil.

Their rivalry is believed to be fueled by competition over bottle recycling in central Israel, a business that earns millions of shekels annually and is largely controlled by the underworld.

Rafi and Moshe Ohana, members of a rival family to the Alperons, have also been cited as possible suspects, as have members of the Kedoshim family of Herzliya.

Since July, there have been at least five hit attempts on leading underworld figures. Two attempts were made to take out Rami Amira, a member of the Abergil crime organization, in one month.

In July gunmen shot Amira on Bat Yam's Tobago beach. He was slightly wounded, but Margarita Lautin, who was on the beach with her family, was killed. A month later a bomb was found near his parents' house in Netanya, near a kindergarten. It was dismantled. A few days later gunmen shot Charlie Abutbul in a Netanya restaurant, seriously injuring him.

Israel is a democracy, but criminals hide behind the laws meant to protect innocent civilians. More often than not the criminals go free, or serve light sentences, running their affairs from jail much as Paul Servino did in “Goodfellas.”

At the funeral of Alperon his wife and children all swore revenge, promising to rip the limbs from the killers, and send them to “gan eden” to heaven. The commentaries in the paper cited the strong resemblance to Alperson’s wife to that of Tony Soprono’s wife in the popular Mafia TV show.

But the Alperons and their ilk are not TV actors, unless the Israeli mafia is viewed as a reality show. And like Marlin Brando in the Godfather, men like Alperon are rumored to have politicians, police, and judges, “in their pocket like loose change.”

According to an investigative report that appeared in the Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper earlier this month, former president Moshe Katsav, his wife, and two of his children share joint ownership of plots of land in the Be'er Sheva and Givat Brenner areas with reputed crime bosses Reuven and Ezra (Shauni) Gavrieli. And businessman and Likud central committee member Aryeh Shasha.

Gavrieli-owned companies would often buy up many tracts of land, most of them agricultural, at low prices, in the hope that one day those pieces of property would be allocated to residential real estate projects.

The land owned by the Gavrieli’s and Katzav is northeast of Kibbutz Givat Brenner, and stretches across dozens of dunams, most of which is held by a different company under the name "A.R.A.S. Properties and Investments." The Gavrieli’s have since fallen on hard times, as their financial empire collapsed under the weight of the police investigation. Another report stated that Katzav had long been a defender of the Gavrielis while he was active in the Likud.

The spotlight was turned on the family when the Likud placed Shlomi Gavrieli’s daughter Inbal Gavrieli (granddaughter of the family elder) on the election list, in a safe slot, so that at the age of 27 she was elected to the Knesset.

In 2006 the police arrested Ezra (Shauni) Gavrieli’s son Shlomi Gavrieli, who has since fled to Florida, and his son Shoni, as well as Shlomi’s brother Reuven, on suspicion of money laundering and tax evasion, as well as operating illegal internet casinos.

Others detained at the time were Meir Abergil, the brother of suspected crime family head Itzik Abergil, and Yoram Tsarfati, the son of the 1970’s kingpin Mordechai “The Mensch” Tsarfati.

When the authorities came to search the Gavrieli house, MK Inbal Gavrieli used her parliamentary immunity to stop them, saying that she also lived there.

In an interview after the arrests then one time Likud member, Tourism Minister, former Kadima party Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, said he believed the illegal gambling sector was worth between three to four billion dollars a year. Hirschson was later indicted for embezzling money from a non-profit organization he ran, and smuggling in a suitcase of cash from Poland.

The police claim that they do not have the technology to fight crime. They need sophisticated tools to defeat the criminals but are stuck with outdated items with no chance of matching the high tech devices used by the criminals.

A news report stated that the budget to fight crime on the criminals terms was submitted to the government. According to a report in the Haaretz newspaper “… the last time a police commissioner dared to demand a larger crime-fighting budget, he was rebuked in public by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.”

Sharon apparently either by design or ignorance, allowed the Gavrieli family, and other crime families, to flourish under his rule. Likud’s present party chairman Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has done nothing to excise the crime family support from the Likud. Gavrieli’s daughter is no longer on the party’s safe seat list, and no longer a Knesset member. But the specter of the criminal families influence still hangs over the Likud, and even Kadima.

Likud chairman Netanyahu announced that stars like Benny Begin and Dan Merior and Moshe Ya’alon have joined the Likud. Three men with good solid reputations whose participation with the Likud offsets some of the bad PR the Likud had under Sharon..

But the danger to Israeli society hasn’t lessened. A bomb was tossed at a Ramle police station yesterday, but failed to explode. The news analysts say this was in response to the Alperon ‘hit.’

How was this tied in, pundits ask? Were the police at the Ramle station involved in the ‘hit?” Or was the bomb a warning that the police stay out of the fray? Whatever it was, the message made the newspapers and was linked to the crime families.

Analysts wonder if Netanyahu, once he is elected Prime Minister, which seems to be the logical outcome at this point in history, will do anything to curb the enthusiasm and audacious behavior of the Israeli mobsters. Will he fund the police in cracking down on the crime families, or veto the suggestion, as did Ariel Sharon.

Crime has always been around, since the beginning of mankind. Even Cain didn’t hold back his hand when Abel upset him. But is crime an integral part of modern society? Of modern Israel? Can Israeli exist without it?

The odds are strong we’ll never find out.