New rules: IDF soldiers can now fire at thieves, smugglers

Some 70 percent of the illegal weapons in Israel were stolen from military bases and police stations.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The IDF announced a meaningful update to its rules of engagement on Monday, saying in a statement that troops are now permitted to use live fire against suspected thieves on military bases, as well as towards weapons and drug smugglers on the Egyptian border.

The point-blank shooting of sniper Bar Shmueli in August 2021 raised questions around the IDF’s open fire policies, which critics say tie soldiers’ hands in life-or-death situations. A military committee which investigated the lead-up to Shmueli’s killing suggested the new policy, which IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi accepted.

“Rules of engagement are coordinated with an up-to-date assessment of the situation and operational challenges,” read an IDF statement.

“In recent weeks, the IDF has been working to implement the changes, to include the necessary changes into relevant training programs, so that soldiers will be briefed on their bases from now on with up-to-date orders in accordance with their operational region.”

Break-ins at IDF bases are not uncommon. Hebrew language media reports indicate that some 70 percent of the illegal weapons in Israel were stolen from military bases and police stations.

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An embarrassing incident in January 2021, in which a thief made off with 90,000 bullets, shone a spotlight on the longstanding issue.

The military has not considered preventing weapons theft a priority until now, said former Brigadier General Asher Ben Lulu.

“There’s not enough soldiers who are professionally trained to guard military bases. Right now, not the smartest soldier is guarding the gates,” Ben Lulu, who once headed the IDF’s northern command, told the Jerusalem Post.

“The IDF has to understand that this is a dedicated profession, that the protection of bases needs to have its own body,” he said, emphasizing that “the IDF has to protect itself better and invest more in its security.”

In June 2021, the IDF began storing tanks at a base in Israel’s southern Negev desert without necessary equipment, such as guns and ammunition, for fear of theft.

“Over the last weeks they started bringing in more advanced tanks and the decision was simply made that each new tank would come in without practically any equipment,” a soldier told Channel 20 News.

“In practice, they’ll contain only regular shells and mortar shells, because the Bedouin simply don’t steal them. This means that if the battalion gets an emergency call-up, instead of being immediately battle-ready, there will be a very significant delay.”

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The Im Tirtzu NGO praised the decision to allow soldiers to fire upon thieves, but said that the IDF needs to further loosen its policies.

The group said it “welcomes [that] IDF soldiers will finally be able to stop the theft of weapons from bases; however, there is still a long way to go to restore deterrence.”

“As long as our soldiers are abandoned on the Gaza border with [too strict] live fire regulations…their lives are still in danger,” the statement continued.

“We will continue to pressure and call upon the military and political echelon to give IDF soldiers tools to defend themselves.”