Analysis: This is a war over honor

In the murky world of the Israeli mafia, respect is worth more than money.

Yaakov yaacov alperon 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
Yaakov yaacov alperon 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
In the murky world of the Israeli mafia, respect is worth more than money, and a perceived violation of honor can have lethal consequences. Monday's bloody car bombing in the heart of north Tel Aviv "eliminated" Ya'acov Alperon, 53, the patriarch of "the last of the old Sicilian-style Israeli families," as one crime expert, who requested anonymity, described him. Alperon took virtually none of the security measures others in his position rely on, using neither bodyguards nor bullet-proof vehicles. A rival mobster who felt his honor was trampled on by Alperon is almost certainly behind the attack, according to organized crime expert Prof. Menachem Amir, of the Hebrew University's Criminology Institute. "These crime families are at war over honor, not control over businesses or territory," Amir said. Despite intense competition between the families over gambling, extortion rackets, and even bottle recycling, it is disrespect that is most likely to lead to murder in mob feuds, Amir stressed. "For them, honor and emotions are more important than control over assets, because it is your honor that determines your place in the ladder of crime families. And the ranking, in turn, has economic ramifications," he added. Alperon often told the press that he "has no enemies," but the list of mobsters who had feuded with him is long. "It's a miracle he made it to the age of 53," former deputy police commissioner MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch told The Jerusalem Post. "Alperon was in a very serious conflict with two families, the Mulners and the Abergils, among others. Therefore I believe the response will come. This won't pass quietly," he said. In fact, the police are very concerned that the assassination will set off a chain reaction of mob violence as the surviving Alperons attempt to take their revenge. "This is a very serious war and we don't know where it will begin and where it will end. Innocent people are at risk," Aharonovitch warned. In January 2006, explosives expert and crime figure Amir Mulner attended a "mafia summit" at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya. The conference went sour after Alperon stabbed Mulner in the neck during a dispute. One month later, Mulner was arrested near the Arab village of Baka al-Gharbiya. A subsequent investigation found that he had linked up with Arab crime figures to acquire explosive devices, which were discovered in Mulner's car. Speculation was rife that Alperon was the intended target. The last time Tel Aviv was rocked by a mob-related car bombing was when a top criminal lawyer, Yoram Hacham, was assassinated in June. Hacham represented reputed mobster Asi Abutbul, who police tied to a 2005 attempt to kill Yaakov Alperon and his brother Nissim. Four hitmen were imported from Belarus for that job and joined 14 Israeli assassins, but police learned of the plot and pounced on the cell. Shortly after Hacham was "taken out" in Tel Aviv, his client, Abutbul, exclaimed in court, "There are people who are guilty for this murder," though he did not specify whom he had in mind. The Abergil crime family has also known feuds with Alperon. In 2007, Arieh Alperon, Yaakov's younger brother, was charged with assaulting crime figure Itzik Abergil and his associates in a street confrontation that almost turned fatal. Last month, a prelude to Monday's assassination of Alperon may have transpired, when Aviv Sharig, 20, an Alperon family associate, was gunned down in Herzliya, a killing some observers linked to the Alperon's enemies. Alperon was never far removed from the police's radar. In October he was arrested for possession of a knife, in what appeared to mark a new police drive to harass him and prevent his reported move into the Tiberias area. Alperon had claimed the knife was for "cooking" and was released. Yaakov Alperon was the son of Haim and Jamila, who emigrated to Israel from Egypt in 1947. One of 12 children, Alperon and his family settled in a poor area of Givat Shmuel, where a number of the Alperon sons strayed from their father's ethos of honest hard work, and found their way into protection rackets and extortion, and ultimately, into the world of organized crime. Unlike its many rivals, the Alperon family was keen on tackling issues by itself, and did not feel the need to "outsource" their work to hired guns. They therefore remained relatively small, relying on their fearsome reputation to ward off enemies, a tactic which failed dramatically on Monday. "Yaakov Alperon was a very violent man," Aharonovitch said. "He and his brothers went around without guards. They arrived in court and did not take any safety measures. "Alperon has been the target of previous attempts on his life, involving grenades, shootings, and car bombs. He thought he could survive these things; he is the type of criminal who believes in his power. He paid for that belief with his life."