- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

JERUSALEM — The extradition of a suspected Israeli mob boss to face drug charges in Miami and New York is drawing attention to Israel’s increasingly brazen underworld, where gangsters have bombed busy streets and fired anti-tank missiles.

Israel’s mob turf is so dangerous that the State Department last week issued a travel advisory to Americans.

One top gangster, Zeev Rosenstein, was extradited to the United States yesterday, accused of involvement in a drug ring that distributed more than 1 million Ecstasy pills in Miami and New York. He is expected to be arraigned in federal court in Miami today.

U.S. prosecutors have called Rosenstein one of the world’s most-wanted drug traffickers, and he has long been at the top of Israel’s most-wanted list.

The best known of Israel’s underworld kingpins, Rosenstein has eluded convictions except for a single stretch in prison.

Showing footage of Rosenstein boarding an El Al Israel Airlines plane early yesterday, Channel 10 TV called the extradition “the final chapter in a 20-year cat-and-mouse game between Rosenstein and Israeli police.”

Rosenstein, 51, has survived at least seven assassination attempts. Bystanders were not so lucky. In December 2003, rivals set off a bomb on a Tel Aviv street targeting Rosenstein. He escaped with scratches, but three passers-by were killed and 18 wounded.

Accustomed to violence with its Palestinian neighbors, Israelis felt relatively safe from violent crime. But in recent years, the mob wars also have people fearing for their lives.

Israeli Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi compared the mob families to Palestinian militant groups, which have killed hundreds of Israelis in shooting and bombing attacks in recent years.

“The criminal organizations’ activities have escalated and certainly undermine the public’s feeling of security,” Commissioner Karadi wrote last year. “Our approach to these organizations needs to be exactly like our approach to terror groups.”

A travel advisory issued by the State Department last week cited an October 2005 incident in which a bomb destroyed a Tel Aviv apartment building, killing three persons and wounding five.

Arieh Amit, a former top police commander and an international security consultant, said violent crime in Israel is at its most dangerous point ever.

“There has always been organized crime; it’s just that the level of their professionalism has developed. They are much wealthier, much more violent and much more daring than ever before,” he said.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said authorities have set up a joint task force of detectives, justice officials and tax authorities, in an attempt to catch the criminals on tax violations — the way U.S. agent Eliot Ness ultimately took down Chicago mob boss Al Capone during Prohibition.

Most of the violence in recent years has revolved around rival families battling for control of lucrative gambling operations. Israel, with a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, is considered a major outpost of Russian organized crime.

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