The words of an eyewitness, spoken to an Israeli radio reporter, provide the perfect twist to a grim new reality in the Jewish state:
I heard a huge blast and I approached the junction, the witness said. Two women were lying on the crosswalk and there was an exploded car. I thought it was a terror attack.
It, in reality, was a bloody mob murder on the streets of Tel Aviv earlier this week, in which one Yaacov Alperon, reputedly the head of a major Israeli mob family, was killed, and several innocent bystanders injured.
That Israelis thought the fatal blast was a terrorist strike speaks not only to the increased violence of organized crime in Israel but also, with potent irony, to the lamentable fact that Israel, one of the most terror-plagued nations on the planet, must now contend with yet another level of organized killing and intimidation.
Motivated not by nationalistic, fanatically religious or racist inspiration, the new Israeli mobsters most of them Jewish are driven by those most base of human emotions, greed, pride and the lust for power.
Although very different from terrorists in their backgrounds and motives, they are kindred souls in one very important way: their cold willingness to kill to achieve their ambitions.
Alperon was only the latest casualty in the internecine warfare being increasingly waged by Israeli mobsters. Dozens of other underworld figures, from small operatives to leaders, have been killed in recent years, in disputes over turf, prostitution, drugs, gambling and protection rackets.
And that doesnt take into account the innocent bystanders unfortunate enough to find themselves in the crossfire.
Lest one think these 21st-century criminals compare with their American forebears who once ruled the streets of Chicago, Detroit and other cities during the Prohibition era, think again.
The modern gangsters of Israel are apt to use military means and techniques formerly favored only by terrorists in waging their street battles. In addition to conventional bullets, they employ bombs and even anti-tank missiles. Some of them have worked in conjunction with Palestinian terror outfits to acquire their armaments.
Its sad to say that, in many ways, the crime wave is not terribly surprising.
In recent decades, fingers of corruption have worked their way into the very highest levels of Israeli government, even leading to the imminent ouster of the current prime minister himself. Even a causal student of organized crime knows that crime syndicates function optimally in an environment in which police and government officials are corruptible.
As evidenced by its losing battles against rampant drug abuse and prostitution two primary revenue streams for the Israeli mob Israel has become very corruptible indeed. It is reasonable to expect that until such corruption is effectively stayed, the mob will continue to flourish.
The rise of organized crime might also be seen as an inevitable product of a society that has, since its founding, grown increasingly urban, incorporated many new ethnic minorities with dramatically varying income and education levels, and grown ever more exposed to and fascinated with the darker dimensions of Western culture.
The late Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik once wrote of Israel, We will be a normal state when we have the first Hebrew prostitute, the first Hebrew thief and the first Hebrew policeman.
If Bialiks cynicism was perceptive, then Israel, circa 2008, has arrived at a state of normalcy.
But we really hope not. We are not willing to settle for such a fatally compromised brand of normalcy, and believe that Israel must continue to aspire to its ancient mandate to be a light unto the nations.
Parts of Israel, regrettably, are hardly such a light today, but Israel may yet achieve that destiny. Uncovering and stamping out organized crime would be an excellent first step to take on the noble journey.
See the related IJN analysis.