IDF defends soldiers being probed for killing alleged Bedouin smuggler

The soldiers, from the Shahar Battalion, are claiming they only fired warning shots in the air. Did they violate the IDF's open-fire regulations?

IDF soldiers at scene of attempted stabbing attack in Gush Etzion, Jan. 31, 2021 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF soldiers at scene of attempted stabbing attack in Gush Etzion, Jan. 31, 2021
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

The IDF on Tuesday issued a statement essentially providing cover for its soldiers who are being criminally probed for shooting and killing Bedouin-Israeli Nimar Amraani on December 14 as he was allegedly trying to smuggle in drugs from the Sinai Peninsula.

The IDF unit involved in thwarting the alleged smuggling attempt has foiled 70 such attempts this year and had a hand in obstructing over 450 such attempts.

Defense sources have said that the IDf border unit encounters fire from smugglers in almost every incident and that this means smugglers are risking their lives and IDF border guard lives at virtually all times.

KAN reported that an initial operational probe of the IDF Southern Command had found that the soldiers on site fired dozens of bullets at Amraani.

He was killed near Harif Mountain as he tried to smuggle drugs into Israel from two locations on the border with Egypt.

Others allegedly working with Amraani were arrested.

 IDF FORCES on horseback clash with Bedouin during a protest against forestation, in the Negev village of Sawe al-Atrash, Jan. 13.  (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) IDF FORCES on horseback clash with Bedouin during a protest against forestation, in the Negev village of Sawe al-Atrash, Jan. 13. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Did the IDF soldiers violate open-fire laws?

The soldiers, from the Shahar Battalion, are claiming they only fired warning shots in the air, according to KAN.

This would leave question marks about how he was killed and may be a part of why the military police opened a criminal investigation, beyond the standard operational review, about whether they violated the open fire rules.

Recently, the IDF thwarted a number of other different drug smuggling attempts from across the Egyptian border, with the estimated value of the seized contraband being worth in the millions of shekels.

But the controversy also comes in the middle of an overlapping controversy regarding failed IDF security in protecting its bases from being raided for weapons.

In November 2021, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi approved new open-fire regulations allowing troops to use live fire against persons trying to steal guns and other weapons from military bases in an effort to reduce some of the wave of murders of Israeli-Arabs.

The logic was that if there were fewer illegal guns going around – many of which until now were stolen from isolated and poorly defended IDF bases – there would be fewer murders.

Also, there was intense public pressure over the idea that common criminal Israeli-Arab or Israeli-Bedouin gangs were able to easily supply their weapons needs by stealing weapons from the region’s greatest military power.

It was unclear if the open fire rules change might impact how the IDF prosecution handles this case of the killed alleged drug smuggler and how the change might be used as a defense against any indictment.

Protecting the border from drug smuggling and protecting an IDF base inside the country from weapons theft are different tasks involving different circumstances, but in the mind of rank-and-file soldiers who perform guard duty, those distinctions may be less clear.  

All of this also takes place against the backdrop of heightened scrutiny over Israel in general as a new right-wing government takes power, including with the provocative Itamar Ben Gvir slated to take over some border authorities as national security minister.