TEL AVIV—In the pre-dawn hours of May 13, Nissim Alperon, one of Israel’s most notorious alleged gangsters, and a small army of men found themselves at the entrance to the Palestinian city of Qalqilya in the West Bank waiting for the return of a stolen horse. With each passing hour Alperon grew restless, until he decided to send in a few of his associates to get the animal back.
A week earlier, Alperon had woken up to find that his prized Arabian mount had been stolen from his ranch in the central Israeli city of Petach Tikva. The horse, valued at some $100,000, was used for riding, breeding, and shows. But the real value was sentimental—Alperon had raised it nearly since birth, seven years prior, as if it were his child. More to the point, who would be brazen (and stupid) enough to steal from Alperon?
One of 11 brothers and sisters, Nissim Alperon, 65, is a senior member of the eponymous crime family long considered the most powerful and lethal in Israel. Led by Nissim’s brother, Yaakov—the “Israeli Don Corleone”—the Alperons came to dominate the Israeli underworld for three decades starting in the 1970s, running extortion rackets and gambling rings, recycling schemes and “grey-market” loan operations. Business was good, but dangerous.