An over-the-top gang war between Israeli crime families, complete with daylight bombings, bystander deaths and the occasional rocket attack, has laid bare the shortcomings of the country's formidable security apparatus. "In many respects we are losing the battle," said Menachem Amir, a criminology professor at Hebrew University. Organized crime blossomed here in the 1980s and '90s while security forces were focused on Palestinian terrorist threats. By the time Israeli authorities truly began to grapple with the problem a few years ago, they faced a sophisticated global network of gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking, with Los Angeles as one of its hubs. Court documents and interviews with Israeli law enforcement officials give glimpses of a criminal tapestry that includes an assassination in Encino, alliances with violent L.A. gangs and the establishment of an Israeli-directed drug pipeline from Europe straight to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Israeli law enforcement officials admit they've been caught flat-footed and are scrambling to catch up, using increased surveillance, tougher laws and partnerships with more experienced agencies in the U.S. and Europe. "We're about five years behind the criminals," said Arye Livneh, head of the government's newly created witness protection program, which won't even begin protecting prospective mob informants until next summer. "This is a tiny place. It's not easy to hide someone in Israel."
The United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of California has been largely responsible for going after some of the Israeli crime families for their alleged roles as suppliers of ecstasy and other drugs into Los Angeles:
In August, police in Jerusalem arrested reputed mob boss Itzhak "Big Friend" Abergil and his brother Meir on drug-trafficking and other racketeering charges, filed by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles. The pair await extradition to the States for trial. Israeli officials hail the Abergil case as proof that they're making strides in dealing with local mafiosi, and developing sophisticated global approaches to combat sophisticated global criminals. "These cases require a lot more work and a lot more creativity," said Gal Levertov, director of the department of international affairs in the Israeli state attorney's office. "We're trying to cope with this new global phenomenon." The Abergil trial should be the latest test for a legal template established in the 2006 prosecution of former ecstasy drug kingpin Zeev Rosenstein. In a precedent-setting arrangement, Rosenstein was charged in America, arrested in Israel and extradited, sentenced to 12 years in prison, then shipped back to Israel to serve his time.
Related Story: "L.A.-Israel ecstasy connection was a natural":
When ecstasy first appeared on the drug scene, Israeli criminal networks were uniquely placed to take advantage. The drug flowed largely from underground labs in the Netherlands and Belgium, where Israeli mob families already had infrastructure in place for smuggling diamonds. As a hub for Israeli immigrants and a party town, Los Angeles instantly became one of the epicenters for the mid-'90s Israeli ecstasy invasion. Among the Israeli-connected characters who strode across the ecstasy landscape were Hai Waknine, an Israeli American racketeer from Van Nuys, and Jacob "Cookie" Orgad, who hung around with "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss and hired ultra-Orthodox Jewish teenagers as his drug mules.