Organized crime organizations have been trying to form connections with local authority leaders in recent years, the head of the police’s Investigations and Intelligence Branch said on Wednesday.

“We have seen very early attempts by organized crime figures to connect with local authority leaders, and in each case we acted immediately because this is a very sensitive issue that poses a serious threat to our democracy,” Asst.-Ch.

Menahem Yitzhaki told the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee.

The panel’s chairwoman, Miri Regev, called the meeting following a car bombing in Ashkelon last Thursday afternoon that killed one member of the Domrani crime family and badly wounded another. The meeting was meant to take a look at organized crime in Israel and for police to give answers about the scope of the problem.

Yitzhaki also spoke publicly for the first time of a new investigative unit whose sole purpose is to investigate bombs found by police. The unit, which was founded two months ago, has examined hundreds of grenades, bombs and other explosive devices to determine to whom they belong, how they were made or stolen, and what purpose they were used for.

Yitzhaki would not give exact details about the number of crime organizations or their names, saying it was something best kept behind closed doors. He added that there was a problem with the terminology.

“These aren’t really organizations with a clear hierarchy or the way people understand organizations. Sometimes it’s a small gang or group of people.

Sometimes they’ll change alliances back and forth, it’s all very dynamic. I don’t think that every group of four or five guys who join together is an organization.

Also, they aren’t appointed officially by some outside body and they don’t operate by the rules that civilians understand,” he said.

Police gauge the groups based on their abilities and there are really only a few major organizations, and even those don’t always stay united, their power ebbs and flows as they take hits or suffer arrests, Yitzhaki said.

He added that police knew of about 300 organized crime figures who were behind bars in Israel, plus a certain number who moved abroad and operate their interests from foreign countries.

Police seized items worth some NIS 240 million from crime figures in Israel in the past year, he said.

An intelligence officer who addressed the committee said that by his estimate there were around 10 groups that could fit the definition of an organized crime family.

Yitzhaki said that while police knew how serious the issue was for the public, for them it was a matter of priorities and having to shift resources from organized crime to fight other threats and vice versa, using the example of a recent operation about criminals in Tel Aviv who repeatedly robbed elderly people.

Though he did not adopt a combative tone in the meeting, Yitzhaki did say that while the bombing in Ashkelon made waves in the press, police on regularly managed to stop underworld murders before they happened, and that those arrests rarely made the news.

To this Regev asked, “So how’d you miss the car bomb?” Yitzhaki answered, “I would like to be able to stop 100 percent of these incidents, but I don’t think any other organization is expected to have 100 percent success.”

Regev later asked Yitzhaki to describe police efforts to fight firearms crime. He said it was an ongoing struggle to stop firearms from getting to the street, and that most get there after being stolen from homes or the army, or being smuggled into Israel.

MK Masud Gnaim asked police to talk about the scourge of organized crime and underworld hits in the Arab sector, saying that in towns such as Taibe and Kalansuwa, “it’s like Chicago already, we no longer have any sense of security at all.”

He added, “Don’t force people to take the law into their own hands.”

In the Arab sector, one saw the influence of Jewish crime groups and their cooperation with local crime gangs, Gnaim said.

Regev quipped, “In the crime field we see great coexistence and cooperation between Jews and Arabs.”

MK David Tzur, a former head of the Tel Aviv Police, said officers needed to increase their efforts against organized crime and called on the court system to find ways to avoid the plea bargains that so often see known mafia figures receiving light sentences.

Police had lost their deterrence against organized crime and these groups were now flexing their muscles, Tzur said.

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