One thing is indisputable: the image of the police is at an unprecedented low. In the face of the flood of demonstrations, almost 180 murder victims in Arab society, terror raising its head and an Israeli society divided and sometimes awash in hatred. The police are collapsing under the burden of ungrateful and frustrating work, which elicits violent reactions that go viral on social media. And the higher the load threshold, the more difficult the organization faces. The phrase "police are weak" is no longer whispered in rooms.
"I don't agree with the assertion that the police are weak or that they are deliberately weakened," Brigadier General Dror Asraf, head of the police intelligence division, said in a special interview with Shabbat.
So why are you frustrated?
"Because in the past decade there has been an erosion of the means required by the police, for example with regard to investigative materials provided to defendants by law. Over the years, judicial rulings have expanded the definition of "investigative materials," and defense attorneys for defendants have also begun receiving intelligence materials, some of which had nothing to do with the indictment. Today, the law defines intelligence material as investigative material, which must be transferred from the police to the prosecution and defense attorneys."
And is it bad? It is the right of the accused, even the most despicable, to defend himself.
"But then negotiations begin. I don't want intelligence methods and means to be exposed, because I'm cutting off the branch I'm sitting on. This leads to the State Prosecutor's Office being forced to withdraw indictments in dozens of cases, for fear of exposing sources or technological tools."
In 2016, the Confidentiality of Investigative Intelligence Materials Law was enacted, according to which the accused is entitled to see intelligence materials as well, but only those related to the facts of the indictment. On this, too, the police and the State Prosecutor's Office have the option of issuing a certificate of confidentiality.
"It happens, but then the defense attorney claims he can't defend his client because he doesn't know what intelligence the police are relying on. In this dissonance, between the defendant's right to full defense and the issuance of confidentiality certificates, there is evidence collected in intelligence that can have implications for our methods. This can endanger the lives of sources. If I limit the release of intelligence materials, then sometimes the State Prosecutor's Office doesn't have enough evidence for an indictment. If I ask for confidentiality, the defendant's defense is violated. In such cases, the court is forced to take into account and impose lighter sentences. Do you want high-ranking criminals to go home?"
We don't want that, but we also don't want to override the rights of defendants.
"I really don't rule them out, but in the end there is an evidentiary foundation and it has become too broad. In my opinion, the issue has been taken to the extreme. I'm not always ready to find out how I got to certain information or what technological tool I used. You have to understand: the more crime progresses, the more we try to tail them, and that's a problem. The police should be one step ahead of the criminals, not chasing them."
This week, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill by Ministers Levin and Ben-Gvir, which allows the police to place a biometric camera, mobile or fixed, in public spaces. Are you in favor of it?
"I understand that the state does not want to use draconian tools against its citizens, that it is important to it that citizens' freedom of movement, freedom of opinion, and that citizens should not be documented. I also don't want to live in a place where the camera detects where I'm going, where I've come from and where I've come. On the other hand, if you take away the police's tools, including technological ones, you weaken its capabilities. A strong police force is in everyone's interest, and Israeli society will benefit from it.
"Therefore, I see the proposal approved by the ministerial committee as a life-saving tool. Because without it, the Israel Police will not be able to deal with criminal terrorism, murders and assassination attempts in the Arab sector. This is an important tool that the police have been trying to promote for several years in order to thwart and prevent crime, serious crime and harm to lives. It is about striking a balance between the need to preserve human life and the importance of protecting individual rights. The operation of the tool will be done only subject to supervision and control mechanisms that will ensure its use for the purposes set by law, under the restrictions and while imposing sanctions in cases where the system is misused."
Factually, Asraf is right. The Police Intelligence Division, part of the Investigations and Intelligence Division, is the body responsible for collecting, evaluating and disseminating information on crime fighting. The information is collected from sources in the field using technological tools and using signals intelligence (SIGINT), which deals with intercepting transmissions.
However, today some of the means, which helped, for example, to locate Shai Avital in Holland (full story - below), are not used by the police. They were frozen in the wake of the Pegasus affair, which revealed that police were using spyware that tracks cell phones, and allegedly used them without judicial authorization. The Marari Commission, appointed by former Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, rejected many of the claims.
"We act as if they cut off one hand and sent us to play basketball," Asraf describes the impact of the affair on the police. "This is reflected in the increase in murders in Arab society and in the difficulty in thwarting crime incidents. You can't take away our abilities and expect everything to be perfect."
Who moved my spyware?
Tantz Asraf, 53, took office in May 2022 was natural. Prior to that, he served as head of the Special Duties Department, responsible for the operational coordination of the Investigations and Intelligence Division in Israel and abroad, and in the past was head of the exposure branch of the IHL and acting commander of the unit. He seems to be aware of the police's image in the public, especially in light of the rising crime in Arab society, which is also linked to intelligence capabilities.
When Asraf talks about weakening capabilities, he is referring to the consequences of the Pegasus affair. The Marari Commission report, published in July 2022, states that in all cases in which the police used spyware on mobile phones to extract information from them, they received a judicial order according to law.
Demonstration to protest violence in Arab society. "The lack of advanced technology is also felt there", Photo: Herzi Shapira
However, the commission found a significant flaw in their operation, with banned substances pumped into police systems due to so-called "technological incompatibility". The report clarified that no use was made of these materials. In light of this, the committee recommended that the spyware held by the police undergo adjustments that are consistent with the powers of the police. However, to this day, for more than a year, the police are still not allowed to use the spyware, except in very exceptional cases and with the approval of Attorney General Gali Bahar-Miara.
"If I want to impose spyware on a suspect's phone, I go to court and get a wiretapping warrant," Asraf explains how spyware is used. "I have permission to listen in any way I see fit, from landline phone to taking out photos, WhatsApp correspondence and emails. The information is supposed to be received from the date of receipt of the order and forward, but in some cases the spyware also extracted information from the past, which was not used. The police didn't do it on purpose, it's part of the spyware operation."
Less than a year ago, the State Prosecutor's Office admitted that spyware was used without permission in the submarine affair against three people. This joins the deviation from the order in the investigation against the former mayor of Hadera, when spyware was hidden on his girlfriend's phone. The police also admitted to violating the order in the Tallgrass case.
"The deviations were in very isolated cases, and I'm not familiar with this material. I have no idea what cases are involved or what the prosecution said. I had no part in these investigations, and at that time I was dealing only with criminal organizations."
What did you do as a result of the report?
"We approached companies that develop spyware, such as NSO and Paragon, and asked them to 'degenerate' the software, to reduce their operation. Some companies told us we were crazy. Every country or security entity that uses the software seeks to expand it so that there will be more options, and only Israel seeks to reduce the capabilities. It not only costs a lot of money, it also takes a lot of time."
And what happens now?
"In the meantime, we are not working with these technological tools. Everything stands. This is not only an injustice to the police, but to the entire society in Israel, where the ground beneath it has been dropped. We see the deterioration everywhere. Today I need legal approval for every technological system I want to introduce into the police."
Actually sounds like proper procedure.
"It's awkward. Police work in the face of crime is like two parallel rivers. In that of crime, the flow is free. They even use special phone encryption software. In the river of the police there is a dam. We still manage to decipher investigations because the police are professional. If her right hand is amputated, she will enlarge her left hand. This year we thwarted 64 murders, and we had weapons seizures that had not been seen before.
Since the beginning of 2023, 26 smuggling operations have been apprehended from the Jordanian border alone, and in all of them the information came from the police. Each smuggling operation has a minimum of 50 weapons. In comparison, in 2022, there were only 12 such smuggling operations from Jordan. This shows that the police are motivated and most of its people operate from Zionism for its own sake. If in Israel intelligence coordinators and police officers were valued at about ten percent of what they value us abroad, we would be in a different place in terms of image."
Based on this data, maybe you don't need spyware at all?
"It's proof that we're doing everything we can with the little we have. On the other hand, there are quite a few other affairs that we could expose and thwart. That's the worst frustration for a police officer."
You claim that criminals have technological capabilities. Does every head of a crime family walk around with an 8200 graduate next door?
"The fact that they have capabilities is reality."
Where does the lack of spyware affect the most?
"He influences everywhere and in every serious crime case."
The police have other tools, such as the Hawk's Eye system, which records car license plates and aggregates data on locations, times, trip history and driver information. How much do you use it today?
"There is no investigation file today in which the core of the evidence is not a hawk."
Does the lack of spyware also affect the number of murders in Arab society?
"Unequivocally. The lack of advanced technology affects the wave of murders in Arab society. It didn't come out of nowhere."
Does Israel Police intelligence feel like you're groping in the dark?
"We don't grope in the dark, but today they operate with one eye closed. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai recently said that without technological tools, bodies will begin to be counted here. You can't smash capabilities that need them and expect everything to stay the same."
What do you think of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's idea of integrating the Shin Bet into murder investigations in Arab society, since the technological capabilities taken from you are legal in thwarting terrorism?
"I understand the minister. He, too, has to deal with the wave of murders. Regardless of the Shin Bet's opposition to the idea, fighting crime is a profession. The Shin Bet doesn't know the criminal world and doesn't deal with crime, just like I don't know how to thwart an attack from Gaza. It's important not to harm the work of the Shin Bet. I also don't want to live in a country where the Shin Bet acts against civilians."
Police Commissioner Shabtai with Minister Ben-Gvir. "I understand the minister. He, too, has to deal with the wave of murders," Photo: Oren Ben Hakon
What do you think of the government commission of inquiry established about a month ago into the Pegasus affair by Justice Minister Yariv Levin?
"There is no doubt that the government must find out the truth, but the Marari Commission and its team rummaged under the skin of the police. I think it's a shame to put in the effort on something that's already been done, just because it continues to hurt our work."
Maybe the results will be different?
"The Marari Commission has done a thorough job, and beyond that I have nothing to say."
כמו השב"כ והמל"ל, גם אתה חושש שוועדה כזו עלולה לחשוף שיטות עבודה חסויות?
"בסופו של דבר, מדובר באותם אמצעים והחשש מובן. אם תיחשף הדרך שבה פועלת מערכת כזו, אנשים יידעו איך להתחמק ממנה".
השר לוין הבטיח שחלק מהדיונים יהיו חסויים, זה מרגיע אותך?
דובאי כתחנת מעבר לעבריינים
50 עבריינים ישראלים נמלטו מהחוק ושוהים כיום בחו"ל. הם חשודים בעבירות של רצח, הלבנת הון, סחר בסמים ויבוא אמל"ח, ונגד חלקם כבר הוצאו צווי מעצר בינלאומיים. אם לפני כעשור היו שבעה נציגי משטרה בחו"ל, היום גדל מספרם ל־15.
"זה נובע מתוך צורך, כי העבריינים הישראלים פרצו מזמן את גבולות המדינה", אומר אסרף. "אנחנו יודעים היכן נמצאים רבים מהם ומה סדר היום שלהם, אבל לא יכולים לעצור אותם כי נגד חלקם אין עדיין תשתית ראייתית. אלה עבריינים שמשפיעים בצורה ישירה על הפשיעה בישראל בגלל יבוא סמים, הונאות פורקס, שהן עסקאות במטבעות דיגיטליים, וגם במתן הנחיות ישירות לגובי כספים בשוק האפור".
לאחרונה עצרה המשטרה כ־14 חשודים בדובאי. זה מסמן שהיא הולכת להפוך לעיר מקלט?
"דובאי לא יכולה להפוך לכזו, מפני שהכל שם מרושת במצלמות והחוק מאוד קפדני. דובאי הפכה לתחנת מעבר של עבריינים בדרך ליעד אחר, כי היא שער למזרח התיכון. שדה התעופה שלהם הוא מהפעילים בעולם, ויש מי שמנסה את מזלו. הייתי שם עוד לפני הסכמי אברהם וגיליתי שהרצון שלהם למגר פשיעה הוא עצום. ראש האגף למלחמה בפשיעה בדובאי נדהם כששמע כמה מקרי רצח יש בישראל. באותם ימים לא היה להם אפילו רצח אחד. אני מניח שזה בגלל המצלמות".
עד כמה המודיעין שלך משקיע היום מאמץ גם בתנועת המחאה?
"אנחנו משקיעים שם לא מעט כדי לבדוק מה הולך להיות בהפגנות, כמה כוחות לשים ואם זו תהיה הפגנה אלימה או שקטה. זה מעמיס על השוטרים בגלל ריבוי המשימות ומיעוט הכוחות".
הפגנת מחאה. "זה מעמיס על השוטרים בגלל ריבוי המשימות ומיעוט הכוחות", צילום: קוקו
זה נכון שאתם עוקבים גם אחרי ראשי המחאה?
"בולשיט ענק. לא עוקבים אחריהם ולא אחרי דמויות פוליטיות. הדעה שלהם לא מעניינת אותנו ואין פה מניע פרסונלי, אלא אם כן יהיה מודיעין שמישהו מהם מתכנן לבצע עבירה פלילית. חשוב לנו חופש המחאה, שאנשים יביעו את דעתם ורגשותיהם, ולא משנה מאיזה צד של המפה הפוליטית. אותנו מעניינים רק שלום הציבור והסדר הציבורי".
היכן היה המודיעין במהומת האריתריאים בתל אביב והעובדה שבהתחלה הגיעו מעט שוטרים?
"היה מודיעין מלא. מידע מודיעיני לא מתייחס לניהול הכוחות בשטח, אלא להסלמה ולסיכוי להתנגשות. הערכנו את המצב כנפיץ מאוד וכאלים, אבל לא יכולנו לדעת שיבואו עם גרזנים או שיזרקו גזיות על ראש של שוטרים. בסופו של דבר, המשטרה סיימה את האירוע בזמן קצר. צריך לזכור שאלה אותם שוטרים שצריכים לטפל בגל הפשיעה, במחאות של מוצאי שבת, לצאת למבצעים ולערוך חקירות".
התפרעות האריתריאים בתל אביב. "הערכנו את המצב כנפיץ", צילום: אי.אף.פי
אתה ישן טוב בלילה?
"אסור לי לישון טוב בלילה. אני כל הזמן מחפש דרכים יצירתיות להגביר את היכולת הסיכולית של המשטרה כדי לשמור טוב יותר על הציבור. אני מתוסכל אם פספסתי משהו שמתרחש".
מה אתה חושב על התהליכים שעוברת החברה הישראלית?
"אני קורא את החברה הישראלית, כפי שהיא נשקפת מהדוחות המודיעיניים, ואני מוטרד. אני מוטרד מההקצנה שעלולה להוביל לאלימות קשה. חופש הביטוי הוא ערך עליון, אבל הציבור הישראלי חייב להוריד מדרגה ולהרגיע את השיח. יש קלות שבה היד לוחצת על המקלדת והדיבורים הם בלי גרם אחד של אחריות, לא משנה אם נכון או לא. אני מקווה שהמצב והשיח לא יחמירו, אבל אני לא אופטימי".
מעצר פתע בלב אמסטרדם
אחת ההצלחות הגדולות של אסרף היתה המעצר של סוכן הדוגמניות שי אביטל באמסטרדם. זה קרה כשארבעה חודשים של מעקב צמוד הסתיימו בליל חמישי, 19 באוגוסט 2022, במתחם ליידספליין שוקק החיים. ליד מופעי הרחוב ובתוך אווירה קרנבלית, הונחו האזיקים על ידיו של סוכן הדוגמניות, שהיה מבוקש במשך שנה בחשד לעבירות מין ב־26 מתלוננות.
אלפי קילומטרים משם, בירושלים, אסרף ניהל את המבצע. הוא נכנס לתפקידו זמן קצר קודם לכן, ועל שולחנו הונחו מאות דוחות מודיעיניים הנוגעים למשפחות פשע, למקרי רצח, לעבירות הלבנת הון ולסחר חובק עולם באמל"ח ובסמים. ביניהם היה גם מידע על תנועותיו של אביטל, שיצא מהארץ ימים ספורים לפני שהפרשה התפוצצה. הוא הסתובב בהונגריה, בטורקיה ובבלגיה, ואז הגיע לאמסטרדם. אביטל שהה בעיר כשבע שעות והחליט לצאת לארוחת ערב בליידספליין עם שני חברים מקומיים. כשהתיישב במסעדת "מאיה סטייק האוס", היה אסרף בעיצומו של מבצע המעצר.
אוגוסט 22'. שי אביטל נעצר באמסטרדם. "פאזל שנבנה בחטיבת המודיעין", צילום: דוברות המשטרה
"There was a police representative in Holland, Deputy Superintendent Yael Reichard, along with Dutch detectives, but Avital was not in the restaurant we knew about," Asraf recounts the dramatic moments. "I didn't panic, I knew he was in the area. The staff scanned the surroundings and found it outside another restaurant. Yael called him by name and he turned to her."
How did you feel at that moment?
"Satisfaction, but that's our job. The puzzle that was built in the intelligence brigade succeeded."
You were criticized by the complainants because you didn't seem to be in a hurry to arrest him.
"Avital was on the run and we waited for the exact information, the operational option and the most convenient place in terms of extradition. In some countries, extradition is complex or legal proceedings take a long time. I heard the criticism, but I was disconnected from the background noise. When you pour into an operation your experience and ability to correctly read intelligence, then you manage risk. The testimonies of the complainants touched my heart, but they also sharpened me. It was important for me to be quick and effective."
He left the country in July 2021 and was captured in August 2022. It's not exactly fast.
"It's a long process. It begins with the collection of evidence by the police, and it is transferred to the State Prosecutor's Office, which examines the material and undertakes to file an indictment. From there, the file is sent to Interpol, and they also review it and confirm that it is not political persecution and the like. Only then does Interpol issue a 'red notice', which is an alert to locate the location of a criminal suspect, and we can start monitoring him.
"The approval came when Avital had been abroad for at least three months. We tracked him down, occasionally disappeared for a few days, and for the past four months we've been closed on him. Intelligence is not instant. We waited for him to make mistakes and employed advanced technological tools."
"I followed him and called 'Boaz.'"
Avital was not Asraf's first seizure abroad. He goes back 16 years, to the days when he served as a representative of the Israeli police in Turkey and the Balkans. Even then, he held the position for a few months when the Hefzibah affair exploded in Israel, leaving some home buyers without guarantees.
The company's director, Boaz Yona, fled the country on August 2, 2007.
"In those days I worked mainly in Romania, because Israeli crime was celebrated there," he recalls. "Boaz Yona also flew to Romania, so I came there. I met with colleagues from the local police, but it turned out that he had managed to leave the country. I returned to Turkey that day, and the former police commissioner, Dudi Cohen, called me. He said there was information that Jonah had arrived in Italy. That day, August 28, I also flew to Milan.
"When I landed, detectives approached me. Instead of leaving the airport, to my surprise, they returned to the terminal. They explained that first they drink espresso and then go to the central unit of the Milan police. I arrived with basic information received from Israelis, according to which a pigeon was driving around in a blue BMW. I also had a license plate number. I asked the Italians to check road cameras, and it turned out that the vehicle had been seen two weeks earlier at a gas station on the Austrian border. When photos from the station's cameras arrived, I recognized Yona's wife with the two children. She went into a service store and bought a SIM card. We checked the number and it was inactive, but we found that it only sent one message to another number in Italy, which is also no longer active. I asked which antenna was used for communication in Italy, and it was located in the city of Verona.
"I believe detective work is done with my feet, and the next day I arrived in an open area outside Verona. Six policemen stood and looked at the antenna for a few seconds as if in a surreal sight. In the distance I saw a small hotel. It turned out that the manager there was a former police officer. I showed him a picture of Boaz Yona, and he examined it quite a bit. In the end, he said he saw him at his son's hotel, in the town of Castelnuovo near Lake Garda, but he looked different because he had a French beard. That day I went to Castelnuovo and the son said that Jonah was staying with him now, that every day he went around the lake, ate breakfast, and then at ten o'clock the same car picked him up and returned him at ten o'clock at night.
"I went into Jonah's room, there was a pile of papers on the table. I turned them over and saw the word Hephzibah. On the side was a suitcase with his passport inside. I wanted to plan an orderly arrest operation, but the son remembered that Jonah was leaving the next day. Everything had to happen from now to now.
"I waited in the parking lot of the hotel while the Italian police were around. Time passed and Jonah did not come. I was sure someone had informed us that we were there. At 48:<> I saw the BMW heading towards the hotel, but not turning to it and moving on. I was in a movie for a moment. Suddenly, the vehicle stopped, turned back and pulled into the parking lot. When Jonah got out of the car, I followed him and called him Boaz. Automatically he turned his head. When he saw the policemen, he started shaking. I told him I was a police officer from Israel. In Israel, they couldn't believe that the hunt was over within <> hours."
August 2007. Boaz Yona lands in Israel after his capture in Italy, photo: "Nir Kafri, Haaretz"
Boaz Yona was convicted of fraud, theft and forgery, and served four years of his seven-year sentence.
"The Israeli Pablo Escobar" in Bolivia
Another prominent case in which advanced technology upgraded the performance of the police occurred in December 2018. Tantz Asraf was then head of the special duties department, and was targeted by Daniel Traeger, 37, from Kfar Saba, nicknamed "Pablo Escobar the Israeli," who was living in Bolivia at the time. Police intelligence reports indicate that Traiger established a cocaine smuggling empire in South America, which is responsible for bringing the drug into Israel.
"We have no ties with Bolivia and no diplomatic relations," Asraf recounts the affair that almost ended in a fiasco. "The police activated an undercover agent, who ordered four kilograms of cocaine from him. Trager was framed, but now he needs to be stopped. How do we locate him in Bolivia when there is no contact with the local police?
"We sent a Colombian police representative there to develop a relationship with them, to convince them to allow us to operate in their territory and to agree to assist in the arrest. After a few talks, they agreed that we would bring a special team of five intelligence personnel to Bolivia called the Israel Defense Forces, a dedicated overseas team. They are familiar with all the methods of surveillance and technology available in the police and are directly subordinate to the head of the department for special duties.
"We issued an international arrest warrant against Trager, and it was important for me first of all to locate him. In Bolivia, the team joined four detectives, and they discovered that he was working out in a gym in Santa Cruz and driving a Hyundai Tucson. The team was waiting for Trager around the gym, and it was hard to miss him because he was a redhead. Together with the Bolivian detectives, they arrested him, and then a marathon began. I asked them to get to the border with Paraguay as soon as possible, since we had agreed with the Bolivian police that the arrest warrant would be applied there."
December 2018. Perception of Daniel Trager. "We used methods that today we are limited by," Photo: Anti-Drug Agency, Paraguayan Police
Did you kidnap him?
"Nope. It was with the permission of Bolivia. They started on a 13-hour drive, traversed jungles at night in torrential rain, and most roads were rough and mud-filled. On the way they had a flat tire and changed a wheel. Two hours later, another flat tire. When they reached the border, they breathed a sigh of relief. Paraguayan police set up a private jet for us and everything looked wonderful. The crew and Trager took off and landed in São Paulo, Brazil, where two local police officers were waiting for them. So it turned out that the flight to Israel would leave only 20 hours later, so I told the staff to take rooms at the hotel. To allow them to rest after a long day, they asked Brazilian detectives to guard Trager first and then the crew to replace them.
"At some point, the detectives decided to sleep and put one of the beds in a way that blocks the door. They fell asleep so hard that they didn't feel Trager move the bed, open the door, and leave the hotel. It was like in the movies. I got a fever when I heard what happened. The staff checked security cameras, and all that came up was that Trager turned left out of the hotel and disappeared into the alleyways. Luckily, Trager caught a Brazilian and gave him $100 to buy him a phone with two SIM cards. Trager's call was to a criminal in Israel, who was under our listening. They talked for a few minutes, and Trager called again from the second Brazilian Sim. From Israel, we started monitoring his location through cellular antennas in Brazil."
So you used Pegasus?
"We used technological intelligence methods that we are currently limited by. That's how we found out Trager entered the favela, which is a crowded slum. Brazilian detectives refused to enter because the place was full of violent criminals. The technological and operational command center operated from Israel, and the information indicated that Trager occasionally went to the edge of the favela to buy pizza. I asked the staff to settle in there. When he arrived, they jumped on him with the detectives and handcuffed him with his hands and feet. They didn't take any chances, ran with him to the airport and flew to France. There, too, there was a little drama when the captain refused to put him on the plane until he got permission from Air France. They got on the flight at the last second."
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