IDF updates open-fire rules, letting soldiers shoot thieves, smugglers

Expanded rules of engagement meant to help military crackdown on gun thefts from military bases, cross-border drug deals

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

IDF and Cypriot National Guard soldiers take part in a joint exercise at the Israeli army's Tzeelim training base in southern Israel on October 25, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces/ File)
IDF and Cypriot National Guard soldiers take part in a joint exercise at the Israeli army's Tzeelim training base in southern Israel on October 25, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces/ File)

The Israel Defense Forces updated its rules of engagement on Sunday to allow soldiers to more easily open fire at suspected thieves and smugglers, in a bid to crack down on crime, the military said.

Under the IDF’s new open-fire regulations, troops will be permitted to use deadly force in cases of thefts of weapons and ammunition from military bases, break-ins at bases and firing ranges, smuggling attempts along the Israeli-Egyptian border, according to the military.

In the past, soldiers could only open fire in those circumstances if their lives were in immediate danger, a fact that was generally known by criminals.

The new rules of engagement were not meant to give the military carte blanche to shoot dead any person who accidentally wanders into a firing range, but rather to give soldiers the option of using deadly force in cases where it is justified.

The change was made after a review of the policies, following years of public and internal criticism of the military’s rules of engagement, the IDF said.

The recommendation was presented to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who signed off on the change, the military said.

“Rules of engagement are coordinated with an up-to-date assessment of the situation and operational challenges. In recent weeks, the IDF has been working to implement the changes, to include the necessary changes into relevant training programs, so that soldiers will be briefed on their bases from now on with up-to-date orders in accordance with their operational region,” the military said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hailed the move, saying it gave IDF soldiers “the ability to defend themselves and us. We are continuing to fight crime and restore security.”

The three additions to the rules of engagement — gun thefts, base break-ins, and smuggling — match three issues with which the military has struggled in recent years.

Military bases in southern Israel have long been hit by theft, particularly the IDF’s Tzeelim training base, which offers potential burglars not only the military equipment but also the personal property of the thousands of reservists who pass through its gates for exercises.

Firing ranges, where equipment is more likely to be left unguarded, are also regular sites for theft, as well as other types of crime: Over the years, a number of marijuana growing operations have also been uncovered in these largely unpopulated areas.

The guns and ammunition stolen from IDF bases and firing ranges are believed to contribute to a national issue of illegal weapons, particularly in the Arab Israeli community.

The Israeli-Egyptian border, meanwhile, has been used for years as a smuggling location, particularly for marijuana, but for other drugs as well. Earlier this week, the military broke up a NIS 5 million ($1.6 million) drug-smuggling attempt along the border, confiscating the contraband but without making arrests.

The IDF’s changes to its rules of engagement was lauded by right-wing organizations and politicians, such as Im Tirzu and MK Bezalel Smotrich, who have long criticized what they describe as the country’s overly permissive policies toward criminals.

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