Security personnel dismantled a weapons smuggling cell after a six-month operation, the army said on Wednesday.
The joint IDF, Shin Bet, Police and Customs undertaking began in October after receiving intelligence from the Tax Authority about several packages sent from abroad to Nablus that included parts of weapons.
A nine-man cell in the city had been purchasing weapons and weapons parts online and having them shipped to Israel via Ashdod Port or Haifa Port, where they were then sent on to refugee camps in Nablus.
A senior IDF officer familiar with the operation said that “there was nothing suspicious about the packages from the outside,” leading him to believe that hundreds of weapon shipments likely reached their destinations before the smuggling ring was discovered.
The first cell member was arrested in December and handed over to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for questioning.
During Tuesday’s overnight operation targeting the cell’s last “weapons shop”, which was in a wedding dress store, security personnel found 10 sights for sniper rifles, five pistol cartridges, 37 retaining clips, 62 gun grips, 12 laser sights, and more.
The owner of the store was arrested and transferred to the Shin Bet.
In the course of the operation, seven other cell members were arrested and four weapons including an M16 rifle and an M1 rifle, and hundreds of weapons parts were seized, as well as 130 bullets, 180 cartridges, 11 pistol cartridges, M16 parts ready for assembly, 200 small weapon parts, two weapon sights, several laser scopes for sniper rifles, binoculars, a hatchet and three tactical combat vests.
The senior officer said it is likely that more weapons will be sent via the mail.
Hamas is probably not behind the cell, he said. “Hamas works differently, they use weapons that they know and the people they know and trust,” he said, adding that nonetheless “we deal with Hamas every day, in every way.
“People in the West Bank know where to buy weapons, it’s a big problem,” he said.
Security forces believe that most of shooting attacks that have occurred in Judea and Samaria and inside Green Line Israel were carried out with weapons produced in the West Bank, most commonly “Karl Gustav” type submachine guns.
Security forces, including the Shin Bet, IDF and police, have increased their efforts to uncover unofficial workshops producing illegal weapons, carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, shutting down weapons factories and confiscating arms, greatly reducing the number of illegal weapons that could end up in the hands of attackers.
Due to this, the price of the most popular weapon of choice, the Karl Gustav, has tripled in the past year, from NIS 1,500 in January 2015 to NIS 4,500 in December 2016.
According to the senior officer, more than 50 gun-making workshops were shut down and over 500 illegal weapons seized in 2016, a significant increase from the 170 weapons seized in 2015.
“At the rate we are seeing now, we will surpass [2016’s] number of seized weapons in 2017,” he said.
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