Fracas between gun thieves, IDF officers highlights struggles with base burgling
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Fracas between gun thieves, IDF officers highlights struggles with base burgling

Investigation says soldiers should have alerted police instead of chasing offenders in incident caught on camera; critics say frequent police complaints aren’t acted upon

IDF officers confronted by a Bedouin crowd at the entrance to the town of Bir Hadaj in the Negev Desert, May 31, 2020. (Screenshot: YouTube)
IDF officers confronted by a Bedouin crowd at the entrance to the town of Bir Hadaj in the Negev Desert, May 31, 2020. (Screenshot: YouTube)

The Israel Defense Forces is stepping up anti-theft efforts after an incident in which officers were ambushed while trying to pursue weapons thieves drew attention to the issue and what some complain is revolving-door justice against the perpetrators, often local Bedouin.

An initial investigation of the incident published Wednesday concluded that it had been a mistake for the two commanders at the Tzeelim base in southern Israel to go after the thieves by themselves, saying the army’s job was to prevent the thefts and not to pursue the offenders.

A joint statement by the army and police Wednesday afternoon said Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir and Deputy Police Commissioner Alon Asur had agreed to tighten cooperation between the two bodies, in an effort to stop the theft of weapons from bases in the south.

“The two noted the need to continue to work together and cooperate significantly, as has already been done until now, to find additional solutions to prevent serious crimes like this,” the statement said.

“The two agreed that the oversight for IDF bases in southern Israel would be strengthened in an effort to prevent thefts and the risks posed by them, particularly in preventative efforts as well as strict and unwavering enforcement by the police against criminals until they are brought to justice,” according to the statement.

Hebrew-language media on Tuesday published footage of the ambush, saying it occurred on Sunday afternoon. Nobody has been arrested over the incident, even though the thieves filmed themselves during the incident and uploaded it to social media.

The reports said several men had entered the Tzeelim base undisturbed and took weapons. Two company commanders taking a course there saw them and decided to chase them.

However, dozens of people physically blocked the vehicle with the two IDF officers at the entrance to the Bedouin town of Bir Hadaj, and within minutes they were surrounded. They were confronted, threatened, and told to get off the road, with one officer forced to shoot in the air after feeling his life was in danger. The rioters cursed at the officers and damaged a military vehicle.

Though thefts from military bases are a common occurrence, this type of direct confrontation is rare.

On Wednesday, Col. Ohad Maor, the commander of Tzeelim’s tactical training center, said soldiers must not pursue the thieves in such cases and instead alert military and police authorities.

Law enforcement authorities have long been accused of turning a blind eye to lawlessness and organized crime in the Negev region, with soldiers prohibited from taking action. Critics say the common procedure is soldiers alerting police about the theft, cops coming to hear their testimony and then no further action being taken.

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