After three years in prison in California, former top Israeli organized crime figure Yitzhak Abergil arrived in Israel on Thursday.
Abergil, convicted on charges of drug trafficking and racketeering in the United States, is to serve his remaining years of prison time in Israel.
As he touched down late Thursday morning on a flight from New York, he was escorted by officers from the Prisons Service’s Nahshon Unit. Upon arrival at the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport, he was removed from the passenger plane with handcuffs on his wrists and ankles, escorted by Prisons Service and Israel Police officers. Abergil was taken directly from the tarmac to be processed at a detention facility, the location of which authorities would not allow to be published yet for security reasons.
Abergil’s return comes at a difficult time for Israel Police, that is grappling with a series of scandals and severely diminished public trust in its ability to fight organized crime effectively. Two weeks earlier, a major scandal broke involving allegations of bribery against Menashe Arbiv, head of the LAHAV 433 unit, which is tasked with handling organized crime investigations in Israel. The arrival also follows months of public criticism of police handling of underworld violence, that reached a fevered pitch in October and November following a series of car bombs in Ashkelon and one in Tel Aviv that targeted a prosecutor.
Much of Abergil’s power came from his charisma and his ability to influence criminals within the Israeli prison system, particularly during the 13 years he was incarcerated for a murder conviction at age 17. In those years, he became a charismatic leader among his fellow prisoners, and was a force to be reckoned with for Israeli wardens.
It is expected that Abergil will be kept in isolation for the remainder of his time in Israel, in order to diminish his ability to influence other prisoners and rebuild his organization while behind bars.
It is unclear what effect Abergil’s return will have on the organized crime scene, or whether he will be able to return his organization to the status it held a few years ago, when it was considered the largest crime network in the country.
In the years since Abergil was first sent to the US, there have been more than a dozen murders in the Israeli organized crime world, as former rivals fought Abergil associates to take over the remains of the organization. In addition, mobster Moti Hassin, who police say was made the de facto head of the Abergil family while Yitzhak was away, arranged a series of murders of Abergil associates who were forming their own gangs or joining up with rivals of the organization, according to a recent indictment.
It is widely believed that Abergil’s return could bring a level of quiet to the organized crime world. It is a popular sentiment that as a highly charismatic and feared former top mob boss, Yitzhak’s return could bring together the warring factions of his former organization under a single roof, bringing an end to the infighting and bloodshed.
On the other hand, the Abergils have had long-running feuds with other organized crime groups. These include organizations run by the Musli brothers, Shalom Domrani, the Abutbuls, the Alperons and others. It remains to be seen how Abergil’s return could affect these feuds.
It was first reported in November that Abergil had expressed a desire to return to Israel to serve his sentence. At the time, one of his attorneys, Yoram Sheftel, said he expected Abergil to serve an additional 2.5 years in prison, though others have estimated that he could be behind bars for another 4.5 years.
Abergil pleaded guilty in May 2012 to being part of a major Ecstasy distribution network. He had been charged, along with his brother Meir Abergil, with running one of the largest drug rings in the US, together with associates in the Jerusalem gang and in California, including a local Latino gang believed to have worked as muscle for the Abergils. Meir was also extradited to the US in 2011, but was returned to Israel not long after.
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, Abergil, then one of the top mobsters in Israel, was repeatedly in the headlines as his organization waged a bloody underworld war with mobster Ze’ev Rosenstein and his associates in the Abutbul organization. The subsequent car bombs and killings of criminals and innocent bystanders caused widespread public outrage, with the scenes of carnage and the statements from police and political leaders bearing a strong resemblance to those the public saw in the final months of 2013.