Police make largest arms dealer bust in Israeli history

The arrest follows a year-long covert operation in Israel's Arab sector.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev view the display of weapons caught in a large arms bust on November 9, 2021. (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev view the display of weapons caught in a large arms bust on November 9, 2021.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

Police officers made the single largest arrest of illegal arms dealers in Israel’s history after a year-long covert operation, the Israel Police announced on Tuesday morning.

The operation resulted in the seizure of 40 rifles, 13 pistols, two machine guns and two explosives linked to a cell phone. A total of 65 suspects from 25 different localities across Israel were arrested, among them a father and his three sons who operated a family arms dealing business.

The raid saw the use of approximately 1,000 police officers, including from the special forces and Border Police.

The operation, coined Operation Ocean, was made possible through the use of an undercover operative who had formerly been a criminal. The operative was recruited by the police in August 2020 and began his assignment in November, police said. The operative himself made 48 different arm purchases, which included 25 AR15-type rifles, one MAG machine gun, seven Kalashnikov-type rifles and 13 high-quality pistols.

“We are fighting a war to protect the daily life of all citizens of this country,” OC Israel Police Northern District Assistant-Chief Shimon Lavi said in a statement on Monday morning, soon after the operation was revealed. “It is a war against the intrusion of criminal elements who try and succeed in getting their hands on public funds. It is a war against the extortion of business owners.”

He warned that many criminal organizations in the Arab sector try to take a significant role in Israel’s economic activity, which can result in them accruing huge sums of money – and that they will get stronger if they are not stopped.

“Crime must not pay,” he continued. “And we must continue to act more forcefully.”

The operation came a month after the first meeting of the new Ministerial Task Force to Fight Crime and Violence in Arab Society, in which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett approved a plan compiled by task force leader, 30-year police veteran and Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz, which put a heavy emphasis on cracking down on illegal weapons.

Bennett, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev and Segalovitz visited the police’s Tel Aviv District headquarters on Tuesday evening. They examined the display of firearms that were caught in the operation and then held a brief press conference.

“We declared war on the lawbreakers in the Arab community, no less,” Bennett said. “For years, the biggest illegal arms cache in the Middle East has been growing, and this is what we have begun to dismantle,” he said.

“To Israel’s Arab citizens I would like to say – you deserve personal safety. And to the lawbreakers in the Arab community who terrorize both Jews and Arabs – we will not let up. We see you, and we will hunt down every last weapon and every criminal who threatens public order. You will be held accountable, we will prosecute you and you will pay,” he warned.

Bar Lev spoke after Bennett and said that he was not being swept away with the success of the operation as it was just the beginning of a long process. Granting Israeli Arabs the knowledge that the police are fighting for their safety is equally important to the arrests and weapons seizures, he added.

Police Commissioner Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai said that the operation was part of a series of actions against illegal arms dealers. He said that the Police had conducted 16 arms busts and had arrested 521 arms dealers since the operations began. Shabtai added that the number of cases connected to arms dealing quadrupled, and that some NIS 800 million in illegal funds had been appropriated as part of a policy to “go after the money.”

Lavi, who led the operation, repeated his mantra: “Don’t target the flies, dry the swamp,” stressing that the lack of personal safety in the Arab sector is a national problem, and therefore the root causes of the problem need to be treated as well.

He added that as long as weapons smuggling is beneficial for criminals it will not cease, therefore, in addition to arrests there needs to be harsher punishments and further actions to prevent the leakage of weapons from the West Bank, thus choking off a major supply source.

Regarding the operation itself, Lavi said that the undercover agent and his handlers coped with numerous complex situations with guile and masterful planning, with the goal to reach the highest echelons of the crime syndicates.