IDF soldiers arrested, suspected for involvement in massive ammunition theft

IDF personnel were arrested following the disappearance Friday night of 70,000 bullets and 70 mortar grenades from the armory.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An unknown number of soldiers from the Tznobar base in northern Israel were arrested by the Israel Police Sunday on suspicion of helping the thieves who made off with 70,000 bullets and 70 mortar grenades from the armory Friday night, The Jerusalem Post and Ma’ariv reported Monday.

The Military Police, who worked in cooperation with their civilian counterparts, believe they may have given inside information to the burglars. Twelve soldiers in all were at the base at the time of the break-in.

Six Bedouin suspects in their 20s and 30s from the nearby town of Tuba-Zanghariya were taken into custody Saturday night after being found in an adjacent forest. Kan News reported that one of the men was slightly wounded during the chase.

The IDF is still searching for the ammunition. N12 reported Sunday that 2,000 bullets that apparently were stolen long ago were found during the hunt.

A resident of the town told Kan News Saturday that this was not the first time the base had been targeted successfully – and that the police know who is behind the thefts.

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“This base has been broken into quite a few times,” the resident said. “They killed my uncle and a friend with these [stolen] weapons. How can it be that in such a powerful country, two children from Tuba regularly empty the bases? It’s really frustrating. It’s also clear to the police which families are doing it.”

The initial investigation of the theft, which was not discovered in real time but only during an inventory count on the base, has revealed that a soldier on guard Friday night had reported several times that an indicator in the fence showed a break-in. His commanders ignored the warnings, seemingly because there appear to have been many similar but false alarms on the base.

According to N12, at 9:02 p.m. police also warned the troops that a burglary was underway. They even contacted the division commander and demanded that roadblocks be placed and the base closed. The report said that the base told the division commander that everything was fine.

The investigation, headed by the 210th Division head, Brig.-Gen Zion Ratzon, also found gaps in the security infrastructure and an inadequate response in the ammunition storage complex on the base.

The IDF recently budgeted tens of millions of shekels to upgrade security on its bases.

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Police raids have netted 75,000 pieces of stolen military equipment since the beginning of the year, including guns, weapon parts and bullets. Much of it had been stolen from IDF bases. Some of it was also smuggled over the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, despite constant army patrols that have led to significant success in foiling the attempts.

It is widely known that the country is awash with illegal weapons. Security sources say the numbers have reached some 400,000, with 70% likely stolen from either the army or police.

While IDF bases in the south have been notorious among soldiers for decades for being porous targets for Bedouin thieves living in the Negev, huge amounts of ammunition have been purloined from there in recent years. Just last month, 30,000 bullets were stolen from the Givati Brigade’s base in Sde Yemen in the south.

Last November, the IDF updated its rules of engagement to permit troops to use live fire against suspected thieves on military bases, as well as towards weapons and drug smugglers on the Egyptian border.

So far, police believe that the motivation for this particular theft was criminal rather than nationalistic, but there is always the fear that IDF weapons and ammunition will end up in terrorists’ hands.

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There has been a large uptick in demand for weapons in the Palestinian Authority as the IDF continues to conduct counterterrorism raids during its ongoing “Operation Wave Breaker” in Judea and Samaria, during which terrorists often engage in fierce firefights with the troops.