IDF official: Ammo theft was failure, but we’re striving to stop thefts

Two Israelis were arrested for stealing tens of thousands of bullets from an IDF base.

The IDF's fuel base in Nesher (photo credit: NESHER SPOKESPERSON)
The IDF's fuel base in Nesher

A senior IDF official addressed Tuesday’s theft of ammunition from the IDF’s Tze’elim base in the Southon Wednesday, both calling it a failure, but also pledging that the military was and is making progress to strive toward zero such thefts in the future.

Speaking to military reporters, the official said that “this is an issue for which we set very high expectations for ourselves to prevent these kinds of episodes and to create a different status in the field.”

The official said there was also a need to establish broader and more serious Israeli control of its territory in the Southern region of the country.

Further, the senior IDF official said that around two months ago, the various campaigns against IDF base theft had borne fruit, citing an increase in the price of stolen weapons as proof of the reduced supply due to fewer thefts. However, he added that just in recent weeks, incidents of theft and theft attempts had spiked again.

According to the official, it was unclear what had caused the recurrent spike after a period of time of greater success in reducing IDF base theft.

 The Shin Bet made an unusual bust of eight Israeli citizens from Bedouin areas in the South for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of bullets, December 20, 2022. (credit: SHIN BET)
The Shin Bet made an unusual bust of eight Israeli citizens from Bedouin areas in the South for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of bullets, December 20, 2022. (credit: SHIN BET)

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) earlier on Wednesday arrested two Israeli citizens for the theft of tens of thousands of bullets, less than 24 hours after the ammunition was stolen.

On Tuesday night, the alleged thieves had penetrated a bunker at the IDF’s National Training Center (NTC) in the South. The suspects broke through or circumvented a number of obstacles and cut through others, taking 25 boxes of M-16 ammunition, said the IDF official.

Despite the Shin Bet catching the thieves and returning the ammunition they stole, the commander still said, “We need to address this as if they were stolen because this is clearly part of a very problematic trend which continues in various places where sometimes we fail and the ammunition gets into the hands of terrorists and criminals. We expect zero” such thefts in the future.

He said that the IDF and the country’s security forces have instituted a three-part campaign to reduce IDF base theft.

How is the IDF going to stop thefts?

First, he said the IDF is investing far more resources in base protection which has led to dozens of arrests and a much larger number of activities destroying thieves’ and drug smugglers’ infrastructure. The official said the increased attention to this area took off over the last 12-18 months.

Despite the official’s comments, IDF commanders in both the north and the south have admitted that the IDF still lacks sufficient manpower to fully protect all of its installations from theft at all times of day and night.

Second, he noted that reserve units are being sent into operational firing areas to more aggressively destroy thieves’ infrastructure. They are accompanied by police officials to handle evidentiary issues.

Third, he said that the IDF and the government are reaching out to Beduin communities in the South to dialogue over both the theft issue and to improve living conditions for the community to reduce the motivation for crime in the first place.

The senior official said that recently a Beduin community sent out a public letter condemning a theft from the IDF, a condemnation that would be unheard of in the past.

After all of these efforts, he acknowledged that because the NTC is responsible for 700,000 dunams of land, it could still be more vulnerable than other IDF bases in the South, such as those belonging to IDF intelligence and the air force.

Further, he said that there were issues with using so many IDF reservists for various tasks because they went in and out of the unit, and sometimes continuous knowledge of the theft threat was then lost. 

The official also hinted that various soldiers under his command could be disciplined or prosecuted for any direct or indirect role in allowing the theft to happen.

In November 2022, over 70,000 rifle bullets and 70 grenades were stolen from an IDF base in the Golan Heights.

A month before that, 30,000 bullets were stolen from ammunition warehouses in the IDF’s Sde Teiman base in the South.

The IDF has for years struggled with weapons being stolen from bases across the country, mainly in the Negev. Many of the weapons stolen in recent years were taken by soldiers along with civilian contractors who worked on the bases, who not only had access to bases but knew where the weapons were stored.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.