100 incidents of weapons theft from base over past two years

‘Armed soldiers are being robbed in broad daylight,’ says Berko

IDF soldiers in training  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF soldiers in training
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
There have been 100 incidents of weapons theft at the IDF’s Ground Forces Training Center over the past two years, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was told on Tuesday.
Col. Gil Mamon, the commander of the Military Police Investigations Unit, presented the figures to the committee headed by MK Avi Dichter (Likud) during a discussion on the dealing with the issue of thefts from IDF bases and live-fire zones.
According to Mamon, there were about 50 incidents of theft reported per year at the center in southern Israel, but stressed that there may be an even higher figure as many reservists choose to contact the police directly or decide not to report the theft at all.
“The Military Police Investigations Unit has no data simply because we do not see any point in reporting,” said Arik Greenstein, a reservist who attended the meeting. “No reserve soldier will act because he does not want to get into trouble. He comes to train for the next war and does not want a long legal investigation and the costs of lawyers.”
Meir Deutsch, a major in the reserves and a representative of the Regavim Jewish rights movement, told committee members that according to information in his possession only five indictments were filed. Deutsch also told the committee members of a ruling according to which the state was obligated to pay compensation to a thief who broke into a storehouse of explosives and was injured from an explosion during the theft.
Dichter said that members of the committee had visited the Ground Forces Training Center recently and were appalled by the scope of the thieving and the level of frustration by those on the base dealing with the phenomenon.
“We train units for operations, and on the other side of the fence there may be an IDF weapon waiting to be used against them,” he said.
IDF Operations Department head Col. Eran Uliel, who is responsible for securing IDF bases, said: “A reservist who comes to serve shouldn’t find himself injured as a victim of violence or delinquency, but it must be remembered that the IDF is not the body entrusted with treating crime.”
Both Mamon and Uliel said that since the IDF has no authority to detain or interrogate civilians, even if a civilian is caught red-handed stealing inside a military base, a joint team from the Military Criminal Investigation Division and the Israel Police investigate the cases.
Parking lots near a base or a live-fire zone are also not considered part of military bases and therefore all cases of theft which occur on them are in the hands of the police, they added.
A Police Intelligence Division representative, Supt. Ronen Yishai, told the committee that live-fire zones are “huge” and that “the police manpower doesn’t allow a permanent guard to be placed in an IDF base parking lot for a week of training without it negatively affecting other equally vital activity.”
MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said, “The biggest weapon supplier of the underworld is the IDF” and that fortifying bases is not the only way to stop the thefts. Rather, he said, the army needs to create deterrence, a statement echoed by MK Anat Berko (Likud) who initiated the discussion.
“The Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] is running after every explosive belt, while IDF warehouses have become a weapons storehouse for terrorists and criminal organizations,” Berko said. “Worst of all, beyond the loss of deterrence and the prevailing anarchy, is that the issue harms the morale and motivation of the soldiers.”
“Armed soldiers are being robbed in broad daylight,” she said. “I propose we end this disgrace.
The cooperation between the army and the police is terrible. The power to arrest should be delegated to soldiers. In addition, a deterrent force must be created in the area that can track the criminals to their villages.”
The IDF announced a new directive in May allowing soldiers to shoot at the legs of thieves attempting to steal weapons from bases and training grounds. Until then, soldiers were forbidden from firing at thieves even if they caught them red-handed.
The army has also stated it would implement a new security procedure for the employment of contractors in military bases in order to give the army more control over who enters. The IDF already allocated NIS 15 million ($4.2m.) into additional security measures for on-base armories, including installing biometric scanners, adding closed-circuit cameras and improving locks.
Despite police and IDF working to stop the thieving of guns and other weapons from bases, both by the soldiers serving on them and by residents of surrounding communities, the phenomenon has intensified. The IDF views the problem to be very serious as the stolen weapons, which include machine guns, grenades and explosives, can end up in the hands of criminal organizations or terrorist groups in the West Bank.
Dichter said at the end of the meeting that in May a discussion on the issue will be held “in which we will demand a response from the highest echelons of the enforcement bodies.”