Police fear that this week's slaying of a top mobster in Tel Aviv will lead to an all-out crime war in Israeli cities.
On Monday, 53-year-old Yaacov Alperon, a former boxer and one of Israel's top mobsters, died in a meticulously planned car bombing in central Tel Aviv shortly after attending a court hearing for one of his sons, suspected of running an extortion racket. Two bystanders were injured.
Yossi Sedbon, a former Tel Aviv police chief, said that the murder would set off a wave of violence throughout the criminal world and that attacks against the family may continue.
"He had many enemies and his sons already said at his funeral that they will ‘chop off the head' of those behind their father's murder," Mr Sedbon said. "The Alperon's response may not just be offensive but also defensive since the people behind Yaacov's death may not be done in trying to kill other members of the family."
The Alperon family has been on the criminal landscape for decades and Ya'acov - together with his brothers Nissim and Zalman - enjoyed celebrity-like status. The family was described as one of the old-time Sicilian-style mob families. By Wednesday, police had yet to make any arrests in the midday car bombing but officers said that Mr Alperon was not short of enemies.
At the top of the list of suspects is the Abergil crime family from Lod and Tel Aviv mob suspect Amir Mulner. Despite being the target of previous assassination attempts, Mr Alperon did not employ security guards and drove an old white Volkswagen in contrast to the bulletproof BMW jeeps and sedans owned by his criminal counterparts.
Mr Mulner and Mr Alperon clashed during a January 2006 "mafia summit" in Herzliya when Mr Alperon allegedly stabbed Mr Mulner in the neck. Mr Mulner was arrested a month later after police discovered explosives in his car and raised concerns that he planned to use the explosives to assassinate Mr Alperon.
Mr Alperon's feud with the Abergil crime family is also well known to police. In 2007, Arieh Alperon, his younger brother, was charged with assaulting Itzik Abergil and associates in a street brawl. The Abergil-Alperon row is believed to revolve around control over the lucrative plastic bottle recycling industry in the centre of Israel.
The Alperons, police said, were also the sworn enemies of the Ohana brothers, Rafi and Moshe. Earlier this year, a soldier believed to have been contracted by the Alperons was arrested for shooting and wounding the brothers.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that law enforcement agencies needed towork harder to stop the mob wars. There have been several criminal bombings in Israel in recent years as well as drive-by shootings, one of which accidently killed a young mother-of-two at a Bat Yam beach over the summer.
Asked if Mr Alperon's death was a blow to the Israeli crime industry, Mr Sedbon said that there was no such thing as a vacuum in crime.
"Someone will fill his place, one of his sons or brothers," the former police chief said. "The war against organised crime never stops."