Fighting organized crime

Police are scrambling to improve their public image by making arrests.

Arrest [illustrative] 370 (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Arrest [illustrative] 370
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
On Saturday night, someone detonated a car bomb, rocking an Ashkelon neighborhood and leaving in critical condition a man thought to be a member of Shalom Domrani’s mobster organization. On October 24, also in Ashkelon, another car was exploded killing Jackie Benita and blowing off Avi Biton’s two legs.
Biton is known to be Domrani’s senior associate.
In July, Dekel Tzafar and Sharon Farhi of Rosh Ha’ayin were killed in a car bombing at the Yarkonim junction.
The two were connected to Eli Orkabi, a Petah Tikva crime figure, who was killed a month before in a midday shooting assassination near a Petah Tikva kindergarten.
Elan Fartush, a 42-year-old building contractor, was killed in the cross-fire.
The Domrani and Orkabi killings might not be directly related, but they are part of a larger mob war being waged not just in a shady underworld but on the streets and public spaces of the Jewish State. This recent spate of mafiosa-style murders has sparked fears that mobster violence is once again spiraling out of control. The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee held a special meeting last Wednesday to discuss the escalation of violence.
Police are scrambling to improve their public image by making arrests. They met with crime reporters in Jerusalem Tuesday to emphasize that they are taking this new wave of violence seriously.
However, the question remains whether our law enforcers have the ability to curtail, if not eliminate altogether, mobster crime? The phenomenon of gangland shootings and explosions is not new. Some say Israeli organized crime entered into a new, and more dangerous phase, five years ago on November 17, 2008. That was the day a sophisticated remote-controlled bomb ripped open the chassis of a rented white Volkswagon traveling on Namir Boulevard in northern Tel Aviv, killing 53-year-old mob boss Ya’akov Alperon. The blast also injured two bystanders, one of them a 13-year-old boy. We could go back further to July 2004 when for the first time in Israel’s history a judge, Adi Azar of the Tel Aviv District Court, was shot dead at point-blank range outside his home in northern Tel Aviv by a gunman on a motorcycle. The turning could also have been in July 2001, when American authorities seized over 700,000 Ecstasy tablets in a Manhattan apartment, leading eventually to the arrest and conviction of Ze’ev Rosenstein.
Experts agree that the rise of the Israeli brand of organized crime is the nearly inevitable result of Israel’s burgeoning economy. One that is now experiencing the aftershocks of a rapid process of privatization, monetary reform and the opening of the local market to global forces. Like all sectors of Israel’s economy, organized crime, too, has enjoyed a major boom. And with the increased level of revenues and potential for riches, competition has become fiercer than ever as has the violence.
In Israel more than in other places, the extent to which military-issued arms and explosives are available to be stolen seems to make the police’s job even harder.
And with Israel devoting so many resources to the fight against terrorism, police can easily be overlooked and under-funded.
Nevertheless, significant resources have been allocated to fighting organized crime. In 2008, Lahav 433 – dubbed “the Israeli FBI” – was created with five separate units: The Etgar Vehicle Theft Prevention Unit; the National Serious International Crimes Unit, which cooperates with Interpol and bilaterally with countries like Russia; the National Fraud Unit; the Economic Crimes Unit; and the Police Gidonim unit, which does undercover operations.
But even after mobster suspects are arrested and brought to court, plea bargains are used to prosecute many cases out of desire to protect informants, a principal source of evidence against underworld figures. The need to protect witnesses is particularly urgent in Israel, a tiny country.
But use of plea bargains inevitably results in lighter sentencing, which hurts deterrence.
Considering Israel’s objective limitations and unique challengers, it is difficult to imagine organized crime disappearing any time soon. The best to be hoped for is more stringent enforcement that will curtail the phenomenon and make our streets a little safer.