Do police have what it takes to tackle organized crime?

As police tell it, Israeli gangsters lack the resources, sophistication or training that they have.

Handcuffs arrest police crime illustrative 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Handcuffs arrest police crime illustrative 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
As police tell it, Israeli gangsters lack the resources, sophistication or training that they have, have learned in recent years that they no longer have a free hand, and are living in fear of informants and wire-taps.
There is some truth in this, at least enough to say that the perception that police are clueless and helpless in the face of organized crime is false. Over the past two years, there have been more than 200 people indicted for organized crime-related offenses, as well as an evergrowing number of Israeli criminals who have chosen to move their operations overseas.
All true, but probably not much comfort to the people of Ashkelon, where the sights and sounds from the car bombings of the past two weeks could have been taken from Operation Pillar of Defense almost a year earlier – broken glass and shattered vehicles in flames, civilians in shock shooting video on their cellphones.
This recent success also doesn’t change the fact that in the same period of time that police say they’ve managed to create a climate of fear for organized crime leaders, there have been over a dozen unsolved murders linked to gang warfare in the Rishon-Bat Yam-Holon area, as well as sporadic gangland killings on a rolling basis across the Arab sector.
Also, what does this success mean for the people who are victimized by organized crime? What do these figures mean for small business owners in debt to the “gray market” and contractors strong-armed into paying protection fees? These victims are easy to find on the margins of society, in poorer neighborhoods or towns – especially in the Arab sector – where there are weakened infrastructures and opportunities and the “Start-up Nation” is a foreign concept. In such segments of Israeli society there will always be people who go to loan sharks rather than the banks, who spend money they can’t afford in gambling parlors, who don’t go to police to solve their problems. For these people, even if men like Shalom Domrani are sent to prison for life, other strongmen will take their place.
According to police assessments, in the coming years, mob warfare in Israel will be typified more and more by fighting between small gangs of localized extortionists, dealers and loan sharks, with little respect for hierarchy or loyalty. They’ll be smaller, more fluid, and possibly, harder to track.
It’s a common refrain in the criminal world that the younger generation of criminals doesn’t have the same redlines or “honor” that the older generations did (assuming there is honor among thieves). It’s a compelling and interesting take, but one tinged by the same sense of hazy nostalgia that any older generation has about the youngsters who have taken center stage, and not just in the world of crime. Still, as long as more and more organization heads end up behind bars or abroad, the field will only become more wide-open for criminal opportunists.
Take Shalom Domrani as a case study. About a decade ago, Shalom Domrani was making his way up in the underworld, working in illegal sand mining and other hustles. In the not too-distant past, Amir Mulner was a member of the Ramat Amidar gang and Avi Ruhan, arrested this week in connection to a double murder car bombing at the Yarkonim junction in June, was a member of the Pardes Katz gang before his name grew.
Today, with an organization that stretches across southern Israel and into the center, Domrani is a celebrity, one of a handful of crime bosses that are household names even in polite Israeli society. His name continues to ring out more and more these days, following the two car bombings in his hometown of Ashkelon that targeted his men, killing one and leaving two badly wounded.
No one wears the crown forever though, and whatever comes of mobster Shalom Domrani and his organization, the vacuum will instantly be filled by gangs of men hungry for money and a name who will leave bodies in their wake. Domrani might by then be long dead, in prison, or living full-time in Morocco – where he has lived off and on over the past year – leaving the younger generation to fight it out.
Ten years down the road, some of those same young guys will find themselves making a similar migration, and the cycle will continue.
The recent media blitz surrounding organized crime has brought the issue back into the forefront, and has seen a number of police commanders and politicians compare the killings to terrorism and the Israeli underworld to terrorist organizations.
Whether or not it’s terrorism is in the eye of the beholder, but one thing is certain: As long as there is a great deal of money to be made and fought over, Israeli criminals will continue to go to war with one another, with only the names and faces changing over time.