Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous Post | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next Post »

ISRAEL: Casualty in the the Mafia wars

November 17, 2008 |  4:55 pm


When an explosion rocked downtown Tel Aviv Monday afternoon, Israelis naturally assumed it was a terrorist  suicide bombing.

It turned out to be garden-variety, apolitical criminal violence: an underworld hit that killed notorious Israeli crime boss Yaakov Alperon.

Known as "Don Alperon," the 53-year-old was a semi-celebrity in Israel, known for brazenly moving about with little or no security despite an active mob war among several competing crime families.

"It's a miracle he made it to the age of 53," said Israeli parliamentarian and former deputy police commissioner Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

Earlier in the day he had appeared at a court hearing for his son Dror, who faces extortion charges. It's possible an explosive device was planted on his unprotected car while he was in the courthouse.

The most immediate suspects are rival families the Abergils and the Abutbuls. Israeli Army Radio said police believe that the hit was the result of a dispute among the families over a lucrative bottle recycling operation. The different families also struggle for control of multimillion dollar gambling, protection and drug-trafficking rackets.

Alperon had famously survived multiple assassination attempts over the years, including a grenade attack on his home in 2001 and a car bomb in 2003. And while a simmering family war has been going on for several years -- killing dozens of gangsters and at least 13 innocent bystanders -- authorities fear Alperon's assassination will boost the warfare to a bloody new level.

"I believe the response will come. This won't pass quietly," Aharonovitch said.

-- Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

Photo: An Israeli police officer from the bomb unit examines a car as the body of man hangs out of the passenger side door after an explosion in Tel Aviv. Credit: Moti Milrod/ Associated Press

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.