Top police official: Organized crime families weakened, smaller gangs on the rise

Amid continued mob hits and public criticism of police, senior police intelligence official strikes defensive tone.

Israel Police press briefing370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman )
Israel Police press briefing370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman )
The world of Israeli organized crime is becoming defined more and more by unsophisticated, small local gangs and not the larger organizations familiar to the public and the media, a senior police official said Tuesday.
The official, a senior officer in the police’s intelligence branch, said that there are only between eight and 15 groups in Israel that fit the definition of a criminal organization. Many of the people the public or press speak of as mobsters are basically low-level gang leaders running localized criminal interests.
The official said that part of the change is the result of a series of killings and arrests of organized crime leaders and the decision by many of the larger figures to take their business abroad.
As he put it, the move towards smaller gangs is something that has increased in each of the past few years, as former big fish in the criminal world like Yaakov Alperon was killed, or leaders like the Abergil brothers and Ze’ev Rosenstein and others have found themselves behind bars. With the larger targets dead or locked up, many organizations have fractured and changed their alliances, with captains and soldiers starting their own smaller gangs that have fluid and ever-changing allegiances.
“We should see in 2014 more and more gangs as opposed to organizations. Whenever we see more pressure on the organizations the gangs raise their heads and begin to exert themselves more and more,” the official said.
He then began to describe how police characterize a criminal organization, saying that they have to meet a certain number of criteria, including a hierarchy, a certain level of funding and planning, in addition to a clear area of influence.
In addition, they typically will have an operations, economic and leadership branch. In terms of numbers, he said they usually have a hierarchy of around 20 to 40 members, with a high-number of associates, hangers-on and wannabes who do their work but aren’t part of the organization officially.
“I don’t want to say how many criminal organizations there are in Israel because the number can change from one day to the next. An organization that’s strong today can fall apart tomorrow and the issue of loyalty isn’t sacred. At the end of the day it’s purely about interests – these are people who want to make money.”
That said, he added that in the Arab sector, the situation is less fluid. The crews are clan and family-based, with alliances forged in blood.
He added that the field has become hazier as a growing number of Israeli gangsters have moved their operations abroad. He spoke about the popularity of Morocco as a base for Israeli mobsters, but also South America, South Africa, and eastern European countries like Serbia and Romania, the latter being a known field of operation for the Moseley brothers organization.
“They always try to assure us that they’re only operating in those countries and not touching things in Israel, but we don’t believe them,” he said.
Speaking with the official, the impression was that despite the public and political uproar over recent organized crime violence, police aren’t overly impressed by the criminals’ methods or capabilities. They view their own capabilities as far superior, yet bound by a series of legal limitations that level the playing field. The criminals, conversely, use fairly simple, easy methods to wreak havoc, and are aided by having very clear goals and no legal limitations on their actions.
“Most of the work they have to do isn’t that sophisticated, it’s putting a GPS on someone’s car, taking a block of explosives and hooking up a detonator.
They simply don’t need to do as much as we do,” he said, adding “typically when there’s a big incident like in Ashkelon we know within 20 minutes who’s responsible, but we need evidence to do something.”
Like past police officials under the spotlight, he seemed a bit flustered by the public criticism, and curious about why there isn’t more focus on the successes of police.
He mentioned in particular several cases, including the convictions of members of the Zagari crime family from the South, the Megidish family from Ashdod and the Abdel-Kader family from Taiba.
According to the official, since 2010 there has been a continued decline in the economic viability of criminal organizations, who he said “are not in the same shape they used to be.”
He said they no longer feel as comfortable going straight to legitimate businesses and extorting money from them and that they are haunted by the fear that they are surrounded by police informants.
The picture was at times optimistic – as he put it larger organizations are on the run or lowering their profile.
At the same time, the entire public can see the continued struggle for money and power in the underworld play out in more and more bodies on the streets of Israeli cities, something that the official did not say he expected to end anytime soon.
According to police figures, in 2012- 2013, there were over 200 indictments issued against people suspected of being involved in organized crime in Israel.