Trying to stop West Bank shooting attacks, the IDF goes for the guns
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Trying to stop West Bank shooting attacks, the IDF goes for the guns

12 months of raiding weapon workshops quintuples cost of home-made submachine guns, making them far less accessible for spontaneous terrorist acts

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

A Carlo-style submachine gun used by a Palestinian suspect in a gunbattle with Israel Police forces in Ramallah on March 6, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
A Carlo-style submachine gun used by a Palestinian suspect in a gunbattle with Israel Police forces in Ramallah on March 6, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The IDF has a simple theory on how to stop shooting attacks in the West Bank: Get rid of the guns.

Since 2015, the army has been on what some might regard as a quixotic mission to rid the West Bank of illegally made and traded weapons, raiding suspected gunsmithing workshops and warehouses on an almost weekly basis. The campaign is not regarded as a quick fix, but it has already led to a sharp rise in the cost to terrorists of acquiring such weapons.

“Most of our injuries in the past two years have been from shooting attacks. So we decided to start a campaign against weaponry in the West Bank, with the goal of minimizing the amount of guns and the secondary goal of raising the price of the weapons,” a senior intelligence officer said Thursday evening.

Save for members of the Palestinian security services, it is illegal for Palestinians to own guns of any kind. In its crackdown, the army has focused on the sources of weapons — manufacturing workshops and gun dealers, instead of individual owners.

To that end, in the first quarter of 2017 the army shuttered 20 suspected gun-making workshops and seized about 150 guns, putting it on track to far surpass its numbers from last year. In 2016, the army closed 44 workshops and confiscated approximately 450 weapons.

“In 2015, we didn’t close a single workshop and we seized 170 weapons that entire year,” the officer said.

An IDF soldier welds shut a workshop suspected of being used to manufacture illegal guns in Hebron on January 30, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An IDF soldier welds shut a workshop suspected of being used to manufacture illegal guns in Hebron on January 30, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

However, the intelligence officer said there are potentially tens of thousands of guns still circulating in the West Bank.

“We are looking at this as a long-term campaign. I’m definitely not saying that in a year we are going to get every gun out of the West Bank, but over time, I think it will be harder [for terrorists] to carry out shooting attacks because of this campaign,” he said.

While the army will not likely be able to track down every gun, it has succeeded in making the once easily obtainable makeshift weapons far more expensive and more difficult for average Palestinians to acquire.

According to the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the cost of “Carlo” submachine guns — the weapon of choice in the West Bank — has skyrocketed since the army started its crackdown, more than quintupling in under a year.

A Carlo-style submachine gun that was allegedly used in a shooting attack on an Israeli car in the central West Bank on January 27, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
A Carlo-style submachine gun that was allegedly used in a shooting attack on an Israeli car in the central West Bank on January 27, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

In May 2016, a low-end makeshift Carlo cost approximately NIS 1,500 ($415). One year later, the same sort of gun costs approximately NIS 7,000 ($1,900).

Higher end models, which are mostly produced in Hebron, have seen similar price hikes, from NIS 2,000 ($550) to NIS 10,000 ($2,750), the officer said.

For some perspective, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average monthly wages of West Bank residents in 2015 was less than NIS 3,000. The IDF essentially turned the cost of a gun from two weeks’ wages to two months’ wages.

“So a weapon that costs tens of thousands of shekels is not so accessible to a young man who wants to carry out an attack,” the officer said.

To illustrate his point, the intelligence officer pointed to the June 2016 Sarona market terror attack, in which two Palestinian men in suits opened fire at a restaurant in the Tel Aviv locale, killing four people and injuring more than a dozen others.

Israeli security forces at the scene where two terrorists opened fire at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, on June 8, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene where two terrorists opened fire at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, on June 8, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In the Sarona attack, the terrorists’ suits cost them about NIS 1,000 more than the guns they used.

Meanwhile, proper, mass-produced guns like AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles can cost tens of thousands of shekels. These types of weapons are therefore mostly found in the possession of established terrorist groups like Hamas or extremely wealthy individuals.

The Carlo’s name comes from the Carl Gustav m/45 submachine gun, a post-World War II Swedish design. However, beyond a “passing visual similarity” there is little to connect the two weapons, as the Carlo is actually based on designs from anarchist manuals from the United States from the 1970s and 1980s.

“Today, designs are widely available on the internet, and are often shared among non-state actors along ideological lines,” N.R. Jenzen-Jones, director of Armament Research Services (ARES), a specialized technical intelligence consultancy, told The Times of Israel last year.

An illegal weapons manufacturing workshop discovered by security forces in the Palestinian West Bank town of Abu Dis, April 27, 2017. (IDF spokesperson)
An illegal weapons manufacturing workshop discovered by security forces in the Palestinian West Bank town of Abu Dis, April 27, 2017. (IDF spokesperson)

Carlos can be made with common materials and tools, like those found in almost any machine shop. They can be made to accept almost any kind of bullet. But the gun’s simplicity comes with a cost: Carlos are notoriously inaccurate and prone to jam.

For most owners of Carlos, this is not much of an issue. The gun is not meant to be used for hunting, where its inaccuracy would be a significant problem or in operational situations where a malfunction could be catastrophic. These kinds of guns are instead used for things like home protection, petty crime and celebratory gunfire at weddings.

The problem is when these guns end up in the hands of those who want to carry out terror attacks, as they increasingly have in the past two years, the officer said.

“We didn’t deal with the problem systemically. Yeah, a gun from a wedding is threatening in a certain sense, but now we’re seeing more and more assailants who… are taking guns that were in their house for different reasons and using them for terror attacks,” the officer said.

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