Over the last month, there have been a number of assassinations of hardcore criminals who according to reports belong to one of Israel’s organized crime syndicates.
Although the Israel Police and Public Security Ministry periodically publish data showing that crime rates have fallen, the reality is that there’s no room for optimism.
The only thing these figures prove is that fewer crimes are being reported. They don’t take into consideration the huge differences between a house break-in or a stolen car and a blood bath produced by two underworld leaders. These assassinations take the lives of dozens of organized crime members, but also those of innocent bystanders. And these criminals cost taxpayers millions of shekels every year.
Israel and its police force have failed to significantly lower crime rates and organized criminal activity has spread throughout the country. Crime syndicates collect protection money in shopping centers, deal in drugs, prostitution and illegal construction (by using contractors who owe them money) and offer gray-market loans.
And of course, there’s the recent wave of assassinations. The police have not succeeded in infiltrating any of these organizations. Crime family members, however, have expanded laterally into all aspects of life – especially in local authorities, where they can more easily reach influential individuals and decision-makers and thereby achieve control over land, real estate and commercial establishments.
There are two bodies responsible for the failure to eradicate crime: the police and the government.
The government is the real culprit since it has been neglecting the police for years. While the military receives an enormous budget, the police must make do with funding that barely cover salaries. The meager leftover funds are spent on developing and strengthening units like Lahav 443 (popularly called “the Israeli FBI”). The Israeli police has suffered from insufficient budgets for training, for replacing old patrol cars that spend most of their time in the garage and for replacing the old, warn-out uniforms.
Sometimes it doesn’t even have money for the most basic office supplies.
Over the past few years, the police budget has grown and there are now twice as many officers as there were 30 years ago, and yet, there still are not enough policemen and women to provide for our communities’ needs. We need more personnel and more patrol cars if we want to be able to provide any deterrent to organized crime.
Another serious problem is that our legal system doesn’t provide proper protection for policemen for incidents that occur while they are on duty. Officers who accidentally injure criminals while on duty have been sentenced to prison and have been subjected to onerous hearings with the Justice Department’s Police Investigation Department.
The result is that cops often times prefer to turn a blind eye rather than confront offenders, since they know that they will not receive support from their superiors and the courts when the time comes.
There is a long list of internal problems that the Israel Police has not dealt with. In addition to the poor working conditions, low pay, long shifts and lack of material resources, the police will not admit that its plan for fighting organized crime is outdated and ineffectual.
Only recently did the government and police begin treating these assassinations as “civil terrorist attacks.” When it convenes to formulate a new plan, the police needs to approach this wave of terror similarly to the way the Shin Bet deals with nationalistic terrorism. The HUMINT (human intelligence – or the gathering of information from human sources) and SIGINT (signals intelligence – or the process of intercepting signals or communications transmitted electronically such as through radar, radio or weapons systems), as well as the legal system must enable the police to conduct intelligence investigations.
The reality in which police officers currently need to conduct themselves in order to acquire evidence that is admissible in court does not allow them to gather the necessary intelligence.
Because organized crime members have little fear of the authorities, it is difficult for the police to infiltrate undercover agents into crime syndicates. No Israeli police officers are properly trained for such activities.
The solution would be to create a unit within the police and train its staff to thwart civil terrorism on a national level. This unit would be given the legal backing to enable it to become effective, proper training, the information necessary to gather intelligence, and innovative technological devices. The only way agents can successfully infiltrate a crime syndicate is by growing from within it. This is the only way the police will be able to get its foot inside the door.
Although part of the problem stems from Israel police’s improper prioritization, management and comprehension, the government – namely the Public Security Ministry – is responsible for most of the problems. Billions of shekels are channeled to the military at the expense of the police, the legal system does not protect police officers and the authorities are afraid to play hardball with organized crime due to inadequate legislation. All of this makes it difficult for the Israel Police to fulfill its obligations and take responsibility for keeping the peace. It’s no surprise then that organized crime is flourishing.
The writer is a former brigadier- general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.