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In a major blow to organized crime, two reputed mobsters were arrested Sunday on suspicion of weapons trafficking, police said.
The two men - Eli Naim of Jerusalem, known as "The Magician," and Assi Abutbul of Netanya - were among 10 suspected gangsters taken into custody in a series of early-morning arrests following a two-month-long undercover investigation code-named "Harry Potter," Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
A court gag order on the case was lifted Sunday afternoon.
The breakthrough in the investigation came three weeks ago, when police intercepted a vehicle at the entrance to Jerusalem that contained an Uzi submachine gun and silencers. Then, during the arrest operation early Sunday morning, police uncovered what they described as a "major weapons storehouse" in the Netanya apartment of one of Abutbul's "foot soldiers" containing a variety of explosives, an M-16 rifle, a Kalashnikov rifle and other ammunition.
According to police, members of Naim's organization allegedly purchased the weapons from the Abutbul family in Netanya last month to use against common rivals in the Jerusalem underworld. Police suspect that the vast weapons cache found in Netanya was intended to be delivered to Naim's associates in Jerusalem. They said they had enough evidence to file indictments against the suspected mobsters.
On Sunday, Naim and Abutbul were both ordered held in custody for six days by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court. The two suspects deny the allegations against them.
Police have identified six major organized-crime families, who vie for control of extortion, gambling, prostitution and drug operations estimated to be worth about NIS 14 billion a year. Competing families routinely try to kill each other's members.
The issue of organized crime was catapulted to the headlines in December 2003, when a failed attempt to blow up reputed underworld kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein resulted in the deaths of three innocent bystanders and wounded some three dozen others in the heart of Tel Aviv.
But Israel's preoccupation with Palestinian terrorism, coupled with a lack of police manpower, have been cited by police and criminal experts as the two primary reasons the criminal underworld has remained relatively untouched for the last several years.
The law-enforcement community's uphill battle against the criminal world has been exacerbated by a court system that sometimes allows those criminals actually indicted to get off with light sentences or plea bargains, coupled with the lack of a witness-protection program.
Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged that the country was plagued by organized crime, which he said had infiltrated many aspects of Israeli life.