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Viewing cable 09TELAVIV1098, ISRAEL, A PROMISED LAND FOR ORGANISED CRIME?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TELAVIV1098 2009-05-15 14:02 2010-12-01 21:09 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tel Aviv
Appears in these articles:
http://www.spiegel.de
VZCZCXYZ0018
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTV #1098/01 1351414
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY AD66A605 MSI9229-632)
R 151414Z MAY 09 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1845
INFO RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 2041
RUCNFB/FBI WASHDC//INTD/CTD/CT WATCH//
RHMFIUU/US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION WASHDC
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHDC 0068
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 7509
UNCLAS TEL AVIV 001098

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (CORRECTED ADDEE)

DEPT FOR CA/VO/L/C; CA/VO/L/A; CA/FPP SARAH SEXTON; INR/TIPOFF; DS
OFAC
ROME FOR DHS/ICE

CA/FPP: PLEASE PASS TO DOJ LISA HOLTYN AND BRUCE OHR
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: CVIS SNAR CMGT KFRD KCOR KCRM KTIP PINR IS
SUBJECT: ISRAEL, A PROMISED LAND FOR ORGANISED CRIME?

Summary
---------

1. (SBU) Organized crime (OC) has longstanding roots in Israel, but
in recent years there has been a sharp increase in the reach and
impact of OC networks. In seeking a competitive advantage in such
lucrative trades as narcotics and prostitution, Israeli crime groups
have demonstrated their ability and willingness to engage in violent
attacks on each other with little regard for innocent bystanders.
The Israeli National Police (INP) and the courts have engaged in a
vigorous campaign against organized crime leaders, including the
creation of a new specialized anti-OC unit, but they remain unable
to cope with the full scope of the problem. Organized crime in
Israel now has global reach, with direct impact inside the United
States. Post is currently utilizing all available tools to deny
Israeli OC figures access to the United States in order to prevent
them from furthering their criminal activities on U.S. soil. End
Summary.

Crime War Hits the Streets of Israel
-------------------------------------

2. (SBU) In November 2008, Israeli crime boss Yaakov Alperon was
assassinated in broad daylight in a gruesome attack on the streets
of Tel Aviv, only about a mile away from the Embassy. According to
several media accounts, a motor scooter pulled up alongside
Alperon's car and the rider attached a sophisticated explosive
device with a remote detonator to the car door. The bomb killed
Alperon and his driver, and injured two innocent pedestrians. The
hit was the latest in a series of violent attacks and reprisals, and
indicated a widening crime war in Israel.

3. In July 2008, a 31-year-old Israeli woman was killed by a stray
bullet on the beach in Bat Yam in front of her husband and two
children during a failed assassination attempt on noted crime figure
Rami Amira. In a feud between the Abutbul and Shirazi clans, crime
boss Shalom "Charlie" Abutbul was shot by two gunmen in September
2008, an attack that also wounded three bystanders. In December
2008, Charlie Abutbul's son-in-law, Nati Ohayon, was gunned down in
his car in Netanya. Before the fatal bombing of his car, Alperon
himself had survived at least three previous attempts on his life
before his assassination, and was engaged in an ongoing feud with
the rival Abergil clan (although there are numerous suspects in
Alperon's murder). The day after Alperon's death, two members of
the Abergil syndicate were sentenced for conspiring to kill
Alperon's brother, Nissim, in May 2008.

4. (SBU) In response to rising concerns for public safety, former
Prime Minister Olmert convened an emergency meeting of top law
enforcement officials, cabinet members, and prosecutors in December
2008. He promised to add 1,000 officers to the INP and to allocate
approximately NIS 340 million (USD 81 million) to improve the INP's
technical capabilities. In general, the rise in OC-related violence
has led some public figures to call for emergency state powers to
attack criminal organizations, and OC became a minor but important
issue in the February 2009 Knesset elections. Former Labor Party MK
Ephraim Sneh publicly decried criminal extortion in his campaign
ads, only to have his car torched in apparent retaliation outside
his home in Herzliya.

Background
------------

5. (SBU) Organized criminal activity is not a new phenomenon in
Israel, and major crime families are well known to the Israeli
public (the Alperons even featured in a recent reality television
program). Five or six crime families have traditionally dominated
OC in Israel, although the names and makeup of these syndicates have
fluctuated in recent years. The Abergil, Abutbul, Alperon, and
Rosenstein organizations are among the most well known, but recent
arrests and assassinations have created a power vacuum at the top.
New names such as Mulner, Shirazi, Cohen and Domrani have moved
quickly to fill the gap. Other up-and-coming groups include the
Harari, Ohana, and Kdoshim families. There are also a number of
rival families active in the underworld of Israel's Arab sector.

6. (SBU) Traditional OC activities in Israel include illegal
neighborhood casinos, prostitution rings, extortion, and loan
sharking, with each family controlling a different geographic
region. The Alperon family, for instance, dominates the Sharon
region, while the Abutbul operation is based in the coastal city of
Netanya. The focus is largely on easy money guaranteed by the
limited use of violence. Criminal involvement in the recycling
business, for example, has been well covered in the press. OC

families collect bottles illegally from municipal recycling bins and
restaurants, return them at the collection centers claiming twice
the actual numbers, and pocket the change for millions in profits.

Not Your Grandfather's Mob
---------------------------

7. (SBU) Despite their notoriety, OC figures have generally been
viewed as a nuisance to be handled by local police. Law enforcement
resources were directed to more existential security threats from
terrorists and enemy states. In recent years, however, the rules of
the game have changed. According to xxxxx, the old school of Israel 
OC is giving way to a new, more violent, breed of crime. xxxxx told conoffs that the new style of
crime features knowledge of hi-tech explosives acquired from service
in the Israeli Defense Forces, and a willingness to use
indiscriminate violence, at least against rival gang leaders. New
OC business also includes technology-related crimes, such as stock
market and credit card fraud, and operates on a global scale.

8. (SBU) As the reach of Israeli OC has grown, so have the stakes.
Crime families are working further from home and exporting violence
abroad. Older gambling schemes have grown to include sprawling
casino franchises in Eastern Europe. The Abutbul family began its
gambling business in Romania over a decade ago, and now owns the
Europe-wide Casino Royale network. In 2002, Israeli OC turf wars
spilled into Europe when Yaakov Abergil and Felix Abutbul were
killed two months apart. Abutbul was gunned down in front of his
casino in Prague in a show of force by the Abergils as they
attempted to capture a portion of the European gambling market.

9. (SBU) Israeli OC now plays a significant role in the global drug
trade, providing both a local consumer market and an important
transit point to Europe and the United States. In 2004, Zeev
Rosenstein was arrested in Israel for possession of 700,000 ecstasy
tablets in his New York apartment, destined for distribution in the
U.S. market. He was ultimately extradited to the United States in
2006, where he is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence. Two
other crime figures, Meir Abergil and Israel Ozifa, are also facing
U.S. extradition charges on charges that include smuggling 100,000
ecstasy tablets into the United States.

10. (SBU) The prostitution business has also grown beyond the
neighborhood brothel. In March 2009, the INP arrested twelve
suspects in what is believed to be the largest Israeli-led human
trafficking network unearthed to date. Ring leader Rami Saban and
his associates were charged with smuggling thousands of women from
the former Soviet Union and forcing them to work as prostitutes in
Israel, Cyprus, Belgium, and Great Britain. Some women were flown
to Egypt and smuggled across the Sinai border by Bedouins.

Law Enforcement Steps up the Pressure
-------------------------------------

11. (SBU) After years of perceived inaction, in 2008 the INP
created a new unit called Lahav 433. The elite unit operates under
the direct command of the police commissioner, and is charged
specifically with infiltrating and eliminating Israel's major crime
syndicates. Lahav 433 also cooperates closely with district
investigative units to combat smaller criminal organizations, many
of which are aligned with the larger crime families.

12. (SBU) Following Alperon's assassination, the INP initiated a
series of raids that led to the arrests of a number of leading crime
figures. Among their targets were Aviv and Adam Abutbul, sons of
crime-family head Charlie Abutbul, both charged with possession of
illegal weapons. (A third brother, Francois, is already facing
murder charges for a nightclub killing in 2004.) Police also
arrested gangland figure Amir Mulner for weapons possession and
conspiracy to commit a crime. Mulner is known to be an explosives
expert by army training, and is a suspect in Yaakov Alperon's
murder. He is also believed to be managing affairs for Rosenstein
while the latter serves his sentence in the United States.

13. (SBU) Yaakov Alperon's brother Nissim was arrested with 18
others in December 2008, in what was reported to be a "mafia
meeting" in a Tel Aviv-area caf. According to the Jerusalem Post,
the group may have been planning a revenge attack for his brother's
recent assassination. Alperon's son Dror, recently dismissed from
his army service for disorderly behavior, also faces several counts
of assault and was convicted on extortion charges. Also in
December, police in Netanya launched several raids on illegal
gambling houses and the homes of suspected money launderers with
ties to the crime families. In Ashdod, brothers Roni and David
Harari were arrested on charges of extortion. Regional police stuck
a blow against the Jerusalem Gang, and convicted its leader Itzik
Bar Muha.

Skepticism Hovers Over GOI Efforts
----------------------------------

14. (SBU)xxxxx told conoffs that
"thousands of foot soldiers" remain active on the streets despite
these aggressive anti-OC operations. He noted that approximately
2,000 people attended Alperon's very public funeral. xxxxx
expressed skepticism that recent arrests will bear fruit in the long
term without a sustained commitment to enforcement. He noted that
many of the crime leaders remain active while in prison and their
operations are not hampered significantly even when they are
convicted and jailed.

15. (SBU) In December 2008, former Prime Minister Olmert himself
admitted that efforts to combat OC have long been diluted among
different agencies, and that INP technology lags far behind that
allocated to security services for counterterrorism. Given the
recent change in government and the current economic crisis, there
is public skepticism as to whether GOI promises to remedy the
situation will be fulfilled. In 2003, following a failed
assassination attempt on Rosenstein, then Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon made similar promises to commit manpower and resources to
combating the problem.

16. (SBU) It is not entirely clear to what extent OC elements have
penetrated the Israeli establishment and corrupted public officials.
The INP insists that such instances are rare, despite the
occasional revelation of crooked police officers in the press.
Nevertheless, there have been several dramatic revelations in recent
years that indicate a growing problem. In 2004, former government
minister Gonen Segev was arrested for trying to smuggle thousands of
ecstasy pills into Israel, a case that produced considerable
circumstantial evidence of his involvement in OC. The election of
Inbal Gavrieli to the Knesset in 2003 as a member of Likud raised
concerns about OC influence in the party's Central Committee.
Gavrieli is the daughter of a suspected crime boss, and she
attempted to use her parliamentary immunity to block investigations
into her father's business. (Gavrieli is no longer a member of the
Knesset.) Just last month, Israeli politicos and OC figures came
together for the funeral of Likud party activist Shlomi Oz, who
served time in prison in the 1990s for extortion on behalf of the
Alperon family. Among those in attendance was Omri Sharon, son of
former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was himself convicted in
2006 on illegal fundraising charges unrelated to OC.

Courts Testing New Powers
--------------------------

17. (SBU) In 2003, the GOI passed anti-OC legislation that carries
a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for heading a criminal
organization and three years for working in such an organization.
The law defines such a body as a group of people working in an
"organized, methodical and ongoing pattern to commit offenses that
are defined by the laws of Israel as crimes." The law also allows
for property forfeiture, both in the wake of conviction and in cases
where it is proven to belong to a criminal organization.

18. (SBU) Until recently, xxxxx, judges and lawyers have been
slow to make use of this authority, and are hampered by a lack of
resources, insufficient understanding of the tools at their
disposal, and reticence to mete out tough sentences. A witness
protection program for those who testify against OC is just now
getting off the ground, and is not backed by any specific
legislation. Nevertheless, on March 16th, a Tel Aviv district court
took the important step of sentencing 14 convicted criminals
belonging to two mob organizations in Ramle and Jaffa to up to 27
years in prison.

19. (SBU) Increased efforts by Israeli authorities to combat OC
have engendered retaliatory threats of violence. Recent press
reports indicate that as many as 10 Israeli judges are currently
receiving 24-hour protection by the police against the threat of
violence from members of crime organizations. Israeli OC appears to
be intent on intimidating judges personally, as a way of influencing
the legal process. Judges in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa have
been assigned police protection, underscoring the depth of the
problem.

Israeli Crime Reaches American Shores
--------------------------------------

20. (SBU) Israel's multi-ethnic population provides a deep well of
opportunity for Israeli OC to expand into new territory. Most
Israeli crime families trace their roots to North Africa or Eastern
Europe, and many of their Israeli operatives hold foreign passports
allowing them to move freely in European countries, most of which
participate in the visa waiver program with the United States.
Approximately one million Russians moved to Israel following the
dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Russian citizens no longer
require visas to enter Israel. Many Russian oligarchs of Jewish
origin and Jewish members of OC groups have received Israeli
citizenship, or at least maintain residences in the country. Little
is known about the full extent of Russian criminal activity in
Israel, but sources in the police estimate that Russian OC has
laundered as much as USD 10 billion through Israeli holdings. While
most Israeli OC families are native-born and the stereotype that
Russian immigrants tend to be mobsters is greatly overblown,
indigenous OC groups routinely employ "muscle" from the former
Soviet Union.

21. (SBU) The profit motive serves as a great unifier among
Israel's diverse demographic groups. According to xxxxx, some
Amsterdam-based Hasidic groups allegedly are implicated in
international drug smuggling through links to Israeli OC. Arab and
Jewish Israeli criminals routinely cooperate and form alliances to
expand control of lucrative drug, car theft and extortion rackets.
Even hostile and closed borders pose few obstacles to OC groups.
According to the INP, 43% of intercepted heroin in 2008 was smuggled
from Lebanon, 37% from Jordan, and 12% from Egypt.

Israeli OC Operating Freely in United States
---------------------------------------------

22. (SBU) Given the volume of travel and trade between the United
States and Israel, it is not surprising that Israeli OC has also
gained a foothold in America. Over the last decade, media reports
have detailed a number of high-profile cases involving Israeli OC,
ranging from large-scale drug deals to murder. The ongoing Central
District of California grand jury investigation against the Abergil
family, where a RICO conspiracy case was initiated in December 2007,
best demonstrates the full extent of such criminal activity.
Investigators have linked Yitzhak Abergil and his entire network to
crimes of "embezzlement, extortion, kidnapping, and money
laundering." Yitzhak Abergil is currently under arrest in Israel
and facing extradition for related charges linking him to the murder
of Israeli drug dealer Samy Attias on U.S. soil.

23. (SBU) As part of an ongoing effort to track Israeli OC through
media reports and police sources, Post so far has identified 16
families and 78 related individuals who are at the center of Israeli
organized criminal activity. The consular section has revoked
several visas for those who have been convicted of crimes in Israel,
but many OC figures have no prior criminal convictions and carry no
visa ineligibilities. As a result, many hold valid nonimmigrant
visas to the United States and have traveled freely or attempted to
travel for a variety of purposes.

24. (SBU) In March 2009, Post received information from law
enforcement authorities that convicted criminal and member of the
Abergil organization, Mordechai Yair Hasin, along with his pregnant
wife and child, was intending to flee Israel for Los Angeles on
valid tourist visas. Hasin's visa was revoked based on his
conviction, as were his family's visas after they were determined to
be intending immigrants.

25. (SBU) As in the Hasin case, Post is using every available tool
to limit OC travel to the United States, but such efforts are not
always successful. In June 2008, Post issued Adam Abitbul a valid
tourist visa. Abitbul had no prior criminal convictions, and
carried no visa ineligibilities. Several months later, Post
received information from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)
that he had traveled to the United States to carry out a hit.
Abitbul returned to Israel prematurely for his father's funeral, at
which time Post revoked his visa. (Post can only revoke the visas of
Israeli citizens while in country.) In a similar case, in October
2008 Post issued Moshe Bar Muha a tourist visa; he claimed to be
traveling for medical treatment. Post subsequently received
information from the LAPD that Bar Muha is in fact the brother of
Itzik Bar Muha of the Jerusalem Gang (see above) and a convicted
criminal.

26. (SBU) As recently as March 2009, Zvika Ben Shabat, Yaacov
Avitan, and Tzuri Rokah requested visas to attend a
"security-related convention" in Las Vegas. According to local
media reports, all three had involvement with OC. Post asked the
applicants to provide police reports for any criminal records in
Israel, but without such evidence there is no immediate
ineligibility for links to OC. Luckily, all three have so far
failed to return for continued adjudication of their applications.
Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that many known OC figures hold
valid tourist visas to the United States and travel freely.

Comment: Israeli OC Slipping Through the Consular Cracks
--------------------------------------------- ---------

27. (SBU) Given the growing reach and lethal methods of Israeli OC,
blocking the travel of known OC figures to the United States is a
matter of great concern to Post. Through collaboration with Israeli
and U.S. law enforcement authorities, Post has developed an
extensive database and placed lookouts for OC figures and their foot
soldiers. Nevertheless, the above visa cases demonstrate the
challenges that have arisen since the termination of the Visas Shark
in September 2008. Unlike OC groups from the former Soviet Union,
Italy, China, and Central America, application of INA
212(a)(3)(A)(ii) against Israeli OC is not specifically authorized
per Foreign Affairs Manual 40.31 N5.3. As such, Israelis who are
known to work for or belong to OC families are not automatically
ineligible for travel to the United States.

Cunningham