IDF colonel censured, officer dismissed over theft of 33 assault rifles
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IDF colonel censured, officer dismissed over theft of 33 assault rifles

Army probe finds security failings let thieves onto Givati Brigade base where they stole M-16s, only some of which have been recovered

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

M16 rifles seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Police spokesperson)
M16 rifles seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Police spokesperson)

The outgoing commander of the Givati Infantry Brigade was formally censured on Sunday, along with a number of other officers, for failing to prevent the theft of 33 assault rifles from one of the unit’s bases earlier this year, an army official said.

On May 26, the 33 M-16 assault rifles were stolen from the army’s Sde Teiman base in southern Israel, which serves as the headquarters of the Givati Brigade, sparking an investigation by the Israel Police to located the guns and perpetrators, as well as an internal army probe to determine how the weapons were stolen from the base’s armory and what could be done to prevent such thefts in the future.

Last month, the police arrested seven suspects, believed to be members of a gun trafficking network, in connection with the theft. No soldiers were found to have assisted in the robbery. So far, approximately half of the stolen have been recovered, according to the military official.

For years, the military has struggled with thefts from its bases, both from soldiers — who have stolen everything from bullets and missiles, to army jeeps — and from criminal gangs.

Ammunition and magazines seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Israel Police)
Ammunition and magazines seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Israel Police)

The results of the internal military investigation, conducted by Col. Nir Rosenberg, were presented to IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot last week. The army chief described the incident as “very serious, as the guns could be used for crime or terror,” the army official said

The probe found that the suspected thieves were allowed onto the base through a subcontractor who was hired by a contractor hired to perform maintenance work on the base, the army official said.

These subcontractors, which had connections with known crime families, were not thoroughly vetted by the military before they were allowed onto the Sde Teiman base, near Beersheba, the official said.

Two of the seven suspects allegedly carried out the theft itself, with the rest believed to have sold them. According to their testimonies to police, the men gained the trust of the soldiers who were supposed to be guarding them as they worked on the base. One of the two broke the lock on the arsenal, filled their car with the 33 assault rifles and replaced the lock on the door. The theft was therefore noticed only a couple of days later.

The soldiers on the base were also found to have not been trained on what to do in the case of a theft from inside the base, only for an external infiltration attempt.

In light of these findings, the army’s top brass accepted the recommendation to institute new security procedures. These would ensure that civilian contractors coming onto a military base were properly screened and given security clearance, and that they were only allowed into the areas of the base where they are working.

These new measure come alongside a decision made by the military approximately a week after the guns were stolen, to invest NIS 15 million ($4.2 million) into additional security measures for on-base armories in order to prevent such an incident in the future, or at least make it more difficult.

The army said at the time that these will include biometric scanners, additional cameras and improved locks.

Col. Yaron Finkleman, the outgoing head of the Givati Brigade, speaks at a ceremony. (Israel Defense Forces)
Col. Yaron Finkleman, the outgoing head of the Givati Brigade, speaks at a ceremony. (Israel Defense Forces)

Rosenberg’s report also included recommendation for punishments for the officers and soldiers responsible for the base.

The major who oversees the base’s facilities was dismissed from his duty, and a non-commissioned officer who was responsible for the base’s emergency stores was transferred to a different position and received an official censure, the army official said.

A number of high-ranking officers also received official rebuke. In addition to censuring outgoing Givati Brigade commander Col. Yaron Finkleman, Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir also reprimanded the deputy head of the brigade at the time, Col. Yehuda Wach, who has since been promoted to command a reserve brigade, along with one other staff officer from the Givati Brigade. Two other staff officers received a reprimand from the head of the 162nd Division.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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