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IDF’s West Bank crackdown triples prices of makeshift guns

In a bid to keep firearms out of terrorists’ hands, shuttering the workshops that make them became a high priority in 2016

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

IDF soldiers, along with the police and Shin Bet security service, seize dozens of illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF soldiers, along with the police and Shin Bet security service, seize dozens of illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The price of makeshift guns in the West Bank skyrocketed in 2016, tripling from May to October, as a result of the Israel Defense Forces’ crackdown on their manufacture and sale, an intelligence officer said Thursday.

Throughout last year, the IDF shuttered 44 alleged gunsmithing workshops and seized more than 450 weapons in the West Bank, a dramatic increase over the previous year, the officer from the Central Command told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It’s easy to remember the number for 2015: zero,” he said.

According to the officer, it was the result of the army’s overall effort to mitigate the threat of terror in the West Bank and protect the Israeli settlers who live there.

“One way to stop civilians from being injured is to make sure [the terrorist] meets a soldier or a police officer instead. Another way is to keep him from getting a gun,” he said.

Dozens of illegal weapons seized by Israeli security forces in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Dozens of illegal weapons seized by Israeli security forces in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Technically, the number of Palestinian shooting attacks in the West Bank and Israel in 2016 decreased only slightly from 2015 — from 48 to 45 — but the figures are skewed by a large number of attacks in the beginning of the year, before the army’s crackdown got into full swing.

According to the intelligence officer, the IDF’s efforts on the illegal gun front have only just begun.

“This isn’t the end of the book; it’s not even the first chapter,” he said.

He estimated that “hundreds of thousands” of homemade weapons are still circulating in the West Bank, but noted that the vast majority are not intended for terror attacks, but for crime, personal protection and celebratory gunfire at weddings.

The Carlo-style submachine gun allegedly used by a Palestinian to carry out a drive-by shooting on IDF troops in the central West Bank on January 25, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The Carlo-style submachine gun allegedly used by a Palestinian to carry out a drive-by shooting on IDF troops in the central West Bank on January 25, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The gun of choice in the West Bank is often referred to as a “Carlo,” as the original design came from the Swedish Carl Gustav submachine gun.

One such Carlo was used on Wednesday night by a Palestinian man who opened fire at an IDF post outside the West Bank village of Aboud, outside Ramallah.

The Carlo is often cobbled together out of water pipes and components of other guns. It is notoriously inaccurate and prone to jams, but when the goal is indiscriminate calamity, those issues take a backseat to its low price and availability.

IDF troops confiscate a piece of machinery allegedly used to create illegal makeshift weapons in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 26, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF troops confiscate a piece of machinery allegedly used to create illegal makeshift weapons in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 26, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

According the officer, the main centers of Carlo production are Hebron, in the southern West Bank; and Nablus, in the north.

The Hebron Carlos are considered to be of a higher quality and demand a commensurate price. (“But don’t tell the guys from Nablus, or they might use one against you,” the officer joked.)

The crackdown has already had an impact on the street, driving the price of better Carlo submachine guns from approximately NIS 2,000 ($527) in January-May to its current cost of over NIS 6,500 ($1,700), the officer said.

IDF soldiers discover a 'Carlo'-style submachine gun, along with other firearms and a counterfeit identification card, in Hebron on August 7, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF soldiers discover a ‘Carlo’-style submachine gun, along with other firearms and a counterfeit identification card, in Hebron on August 7, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The price of cheaper versions of the makeshift gun increased by 300 percent, from NIS 1,500 in January-May to NIS 4,500 today, he added.

The officer noted that before an attack in June, in which two Palestinian men from outside Hebron opened fire with Carlos in a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing four people, the terrorists paid more for their suits — NIS 5,000 ($1,300) — than they did for their weapons — NIS 4,000 ($1,050).

According to the officer, that would no longer be the case.

The army’s efforts also “significantly” drove up the price of “real” guns, like M16 and AK-47 assault rifles, the officer said, though he did not provide exact figures.

In addition to its illegal weapons crackdown, the army has also tried to go after ancillary aspects of terror attacks: people who help Palestinians sneak into Israel; friends and family who know of attack plans but don’t stop them; and the sellers of stolen and unregistered cars, known as “mashtoubat” in Arabic slang.

By focusing on those things, the army hopes it can prevent mass-casualty events.

“If it’s not a shooting, if it’s not someone getting there by car, if it’s a person with a knife getting there on foot — I know my chances are better,” the officer said.

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