Police have arrested four men after a decommissioned tank was stolen from a military firing zone in northern Israel.
The Merkava Mark 2 tank was found in a scrapyard near the Haifa suburb of Nesher on Wednesday, police said.
Several hours later, two men in their 40s from the northern cities of Haifa and Tiberias were detained on suspicion of involvement in the tank theft.
On Thursday, police arrested two additional men in their 40s from Ein Haemek and Migdal Haemek.
The Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry said the tank had all of its systems removed years ago, including its weapons and mobility systems, and was being used as a “stationary vehicle for soldiers’ exercises” in a firing zone that is at times open to the public for hiking.
The IDF said it was also probing the incident.
The Haifa Magistrate’s Court on Thursday extended police custody for three out of four of the suspects. The fourth was released to house arrest.
הלילה התקבל דיווח ממשרד הביטחון אודות טנק שנגנב מבסיס אימונים של צה"ל סמוך למחלף אליקים. עם קבלת הדיווח החלו שוטרי מחוז חוף בביצוע סריקות וכעבור זמן קצר איתרו שוטרי תחנת נשר את הטנק במגרש גרוטאות באזור. מבירור ראשוני עולה, כי הטנק אינו פעיל ונגנב מהמקום מסיבות שנחקרות בשלב זה. pic.twitter.com/Ha7FNKV5wM
— משטרת ישראל (@IL_police) September 20, 2023
At the court hearing, 43-year-old Ben Zion Raviv, a resident of Migdal Haemek suspected of orchestrating the theft, said he noticed the tank while at an outdoor party and believed it was free for the taking as scrap, describing the vehicle as a “pile of metal.”
“When I see metal in the field I order a crane,” Raviv told the court. “I checked my phone, ordered a mover, a crane, and I got in touch with a well-known and well-established company.”
“This tank is all rust, its chains are crushed, as if it was flipped over. I wouldn’t call this a tank,” he said. “I don’t think I did anything illegal.”
The judge told the hearing it was “puzzling” how the vehicle was stationed in an area open to the public and hoped that the matter would be cleared up in the ongoing investigation.
The Merkava Mark 2 was introduced in 1982, with its last models being built in 1989. The IDF replaced all of its Mark 2 models by 2020 with the more modern Mark 3 and Mark 4 versions of the Merkava tank.
In February, two veterans of the Yom Kippur War stole a tank from a site in the Golan Heights that commemorates a famous battle during the 1973 conflict, to be used in a protest against the government’s judicial overhaul.
The decommissioned Sho’t tank, the Israeli term for the British-made Centurion, was later returned to the Tel Saki memorial site.