Police Appear Handcuffed As Mob Feud Rages in Israel


 

JERUSALEM The anti-crime division of Israel's national police was under pressure to produce answers this week after a Netanya neighborhood was hit by an anti-tank missile apparently aimed at a reputed organized-crime boss.

No one was hurt in the December 22 missile attack, which left a large crater in the street outside the home of alleged crime kingpin Assi Abutbul. Neighbors complained that the missile narrowly missed destroying a residential building. Abutbul and several bodyguards were questioned and released.

The blast appeared to be the latest incident in a continuing gang war that has left a string of bodies across Israel, Europe and South America in the past five years, as rival Israeli crime families struggle for control of lucrative gambling operations.

The war pits Abutbul and a Tel Aviv-based ally, Ze'ev Rosenstein, against two rival clans: the Abarjil family, based in Lod, and a smaller Tel Aviv-area faction, the Alperons. Two Abarjil brothers, Itzik and Meir, have escaped repeated shooting attacks in recent years.

In one of the most notorious attacks, a bomb killed three bystanders in Tel Aviv in December 2003. The apparent target was Rosenstein, who is considered the most powerful figure in Israeli organized crime. The blast destroyed a building in downtown Tel Aviv but left Rosenstein only lightly injured. It was the seventh attempt on his life within three years.

Abutbul, the intended target of last week's missile attack, narrowly escaped injury himself in Prague in August 2004, when a hand grenade was thrown under his armored jeep outside a casino that he owns. The midday attack on a busy shopping street near Wenceslas Square left 18 bystanders injured.

The continuing mayhem is an embarrassment to Israel's national police, as they have been unable to win any major convictions despite the increasing boldness of the attacks and the growing disregard for bystanders.

Press reports last year indicated that police anti-crime units have had their budgets cut to bolster anti-terrorist operations.

In a further embarrassment to police, a state judicial commission opened hearings this week into allegations that police officials covered up a former officer's involvement in a 1999 murder reportedly ordered by yet another reputed crime family, the Parinyans. A current and former chief of the police department's Southern District are accusing each other of having ties to the Parinyan brothers, Sharon and Oded, who own a string of businesses in the northern Negev.

In a mark of the growing public anger, a Yediot Aharonot crime reporter wrote last month that the only force capable of standing up to Israel's crime families is the United States government, which has asked for the extradition of Rosenstein on drug charges.

Currently in jail in Tel Aviv, Rosenstein is awaiting extradition to Miami, where he is wanted on suspicion of involvement in a massive drug ring that distributed more than one million Ecstasy pills in Miami and New York. The extradition, requested in December 2004, was upheld November 30 by a three-judge panel of Israel's supreme court.

In a separate court the same day, a Russian-born Israeli, Yakov Moshaylov, was ordered extradited to the Czech Republic, where he is wanted on public endangerment charges in the 2004 Prague attack against Abutbul.

Abutbul is believed to have inherited control of his organization from his father, Felix, who reputedly allied himself with Rosenstein and built his Netanya organization in the 1990s after serving seven years in a British prison for a plot to kidnap and ransom a Nigerian politician.

Felix Abutbul was gunned down in a hail of bullets in August 2002 outside the Prague casino. Assi, who had been in Prague with Felix, disappeared from sight after the shooting, resurfacing only in December 2003. Another son, Charlie, and a grandson, Francois, were arrested in Eilat in January 2004, along with 16 others, on suspicion of operating a fleet of five illegal Red Sea gambling ships.

Yediot reported this week, quoting underworld and police sources, that the internecine mayhem was expected to continue and escalate in the coming months as gangs fight to fill the vacuum left by Rosenstein's impending departure.

Police helplessness was put on public display December 25 in Jerusalem, as a judicial commission headed by former judge Vardi Zeiler began hearings into allegations of police misconduct in the investigation of the Parinyan brothers.

The brothers have been under house arrest since November, while awaiting trial on charges that they hired two ex-policemen to carry out the 1999 murder of alleged confederate Pinchas Buhbut. One of the two suspected gunmen, former detective Tzahi Ben-Or, fled in 2004 to Mexico, where he was murdered.

On its first day of hearings, the Zeiler commission heard testimony from a former chief of the Southern District, Amir Gur, who claimed that the current district chief, Yoram Levy, had interfered with the investigation of the Parinyans while serving as chief of the district's central unit. Gur said that detectives had told him they were afraid to pursue leads in the case and that the Parinyans had been seen at Levy's home.

The following day, Levy testified that it was Gur who had interfered with the investigation. Levy charged that Gur had helped Ben-Or escape to Mexico. Gur is now deputy chief of the Yarkon District, encompassing greater Tel Aviv.