One of Israel’s best-known mobsters, a crime family boss with a long list of enemies in the country’s increasingly brazen underworld, was killed Monday when a bomb exploded under his rental car near a busy Tel Aviv intersection.
The midday slaying of Ya- akov Alperon was described by Israeli media as the boldest hit yet in a string of turf battles that have killed dozens of gangsters and at least eight bystanders in the last three years. A 13-year-old boy and two other pedestrians were slightly injured.
Israelis, who are far more accustomed to violence between them and their Palestinian neighbors, were transfixed by the slaying. It dominated the airwaves and overshadowed news of ongoing rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Television stations interrupted regular programming to show Alperon’s bloodied body slumped out of a door of the burning car, clad in the polo shirt he had worn during an appearance that morning in court.
Tel Aviv Police Chief Ilan Franco called the killing “an extremely serious event” that “likely happened because of an internal conflict within the Tel Aviv crime world.”
Yossi Sedbon, a former police chief in the city, said: “The meaning of this is simple: The battles between these criminal gangs will continue and the families will be even more driven to avenge his death. I fear the bloody red line will be crossed forever.”
Suspicion initially fell on three rival crime families -- two of them are battling the Alperon family for control of a lucrative bottle recycling racket.
Crime gangs in Israel are also fighting for control of gambling clubs and illegal drugs. Despite shootings and bombings that have prompted many of his rivals to travel in armored vehicles with bodyguards, Alperon had refused to do so, often telling reporters that he was not afraid.
He was alone in the car when it blew up near a bus stop at the intersection of Namir and Yehuda Maccabi streets, not far from Tel Aviv’s courthouse, police said. Witnesses described a huge explosion that shook the ground.
Army Radio said police suspected the bomb had been placed under the car while it was parked at the courthouse.
The 51-year-old mobster was popularly known as Don Alperon. He and his brothers gave frequent television interviews and were parodied on comedy shows. His immediate family even took part in a reality TV show.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Egypt, Alperon and his older brother, Nissim, dropped out of school to support the family after their eldest brother, in the Israeli army, was killed in combat. The two brothers drifted into crime and, according to the newspaper Maariv, were among the first in Israel to open a pirate television station.
Over the years, police have focused numerous investigations on the brothers, who headed the family’s growing crime ventures but never expanded outside Israel and had relatively modest lifestyles. They have been in and out of jail and in and out of hiding.
Army Radio said police believed that Alperon might have been killed because of a dispute between him and the Abutbul and Abergil families over the multimillion-dollar bottle recycling operation. Police say criminals sell restaurants protection in exchange for empties, giving crime families a source of income that appears legitimate.
Franco, the Tel Aviv police chief, said suspicion also fell on a family led by Amir Mulner. The newspaper Haaretz reported that the Alperon and Mulner families battled with knives and guns during a 2006 meeting that had been called to arbitrate a turf dispute and during which Mulner was stabbed in the neck.
Alperon and his son Dror, now 21, went into hiding for two months after the fight and then turned themselves in to police. They were not charged.
Father and son had appeared in court Monday morning in a more recent case: the son’s indictment on charges of trying to extort about $400 from a Tel Aviv nightclub owner for “protection services” and of assaulting a police officer.
The family’s list of enemies goes on. Earlier this year, the same Tel Aviv court convicted two alleged hit men with the Ohana family of trying to kill Yaakov Alperon in a dispute over gambling cafes.
In its ruling, the court alluded to the various blood feuds among Israel’s gangs.
“The spirit of many other crime families hovered in the air of the police interrogation rooms and especially in the courtroom,” it said.