unmanned AFV 298.88.
(photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov)
A Jerusalem Post reporter was able to climb into one of 17 armored fighting vehicles left unguarded barely half a kilometer from a Gaza suburb and half that distance from the border fence - with ammunition and various other military equipment inside - start the engine and move it a few meters without being interrupted on Thursday.
The AFVs, which had taken part in the IDF operations in the northern Gaza Strip, spent the day not in a secret staging area but rather in an open field, in clear view of the main road running opposite Kibbutz Mefalsim and next to the Col. Nabi Meri monument.
The IDF had concentrated large armored forces in the field four months ago, immediately following the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and had invited the press to photograph the hundreds of soldiers preparing to enter the Strip.
On Thursday, the place was deserted. No one was there to prevent anyone from entering the AFVs, starting their engines and driving away. There were 14 Ahzarit infantry AFVs, two Nagmahon combat engineering AFVs and one heavily armored D9 Caterpillar bulldozer. The vehicles were fueled up and there was no need of a key to enter one or start it up.
This reporter, an Ahzarit driver during his military service, climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine and moved the Ahzarit a few meters forward and back. Despite the engine's loud noise, no one from the small IDF reconnaissance post nearby or the police firing range at the edge of the field came to inquire about why the vehicle was being moved.
The machine guns and radio sets of the AFVs had all been removed, but there were significant quantities of 7.62 mm. belt-ammunition and M-16 bullets lying around inside the vehicles. Some of them had electronic equipment in them, including a jamming device used against remote-controlled bombs and GPS antennae. Judging from food and other equipment left inside the AFVs, it was clear that they had been used extensively within the Gaza Strip a short time earlier.
The Ahzarit is the main AFV being used by the IDF in its incursions into the Gaza Strip and in the latest Lebanon War. The fighting vehicle is an extremely modified version of the Soviet T-55 tank, of which the IDF has captured many hundreds over the years. It was originally designed for use against the Syrians on the Golan Heights but in light of the vulnerability of the old M-113 APC to most kinds of missiles and even to light-arms fire, it was adapted for use against Hizbullah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations.
This is the second such case reported by the media this week. On Monday, Channel 10 showed two AFVs that were left untended near Tel Faher, on the road leading up to the Golan Heights.
This case, however, is much more serious, due to the large number of vehicles abandoned so close to Gaza at a time the IDF units is operating there.
An officer commanding a tank unit camped nearby that was preparing to enter the Strip in the evening said that the way the vehicles had been left was "a scandal, and I hope someone pays a price for this."
The IDF Spokesman's office told the Post that the issue would be looked into.