Police said Thursday that officers seized dozens of firearms from Arab Israeli gun smugglers, in what was the largest-ever bust of weapons smuggled in from Lebanon.
Three suspects, residents of Tuba-Zangariyye, were detained near the Hamovil Interchange in northern Israel, after a chase from the border, police said.
In their vehicle, police said officers found 58 handguns, 3 assault rifles, and half a kilogram of an unnamed drug.
Law enforcement officials estimated the weapons and drugs were worth NIS 3.5 million ($1 million).
“Some estimate the value of the 61 weapons we seized at three and a half million shekels, but I ask you to look it at in another way,” Israel Police Northern District Chief Shimon Lavi said in a statement. “These new, high-quality weapons, if they were to reach the streets of the Arab community, would have been fired.”
“Anyone who buys an illegal weapon at such a [high] grade, buys it to use it,” he said.
“So it’s not that we seized 61 weapons worth three and a half million shekels. We have saved the lives of several dozen people here, some of them certainly innocent civilians and even children who could have been harmed,” Lavi added.
The attempted smuggling comes days after the Shin Bet security agency announced that two Arab Israelis were arrested for operating on behalf of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, or under orders from Iran, to smuggle guns into Israel.
Officials have warned that Hezbollah is attempting to arm Arab Israelis in order for them to commit terror attacks in the event of another surge in violence between Jews and Arabs.
A security official warned Sunday that Iran seeks revenge against Israel for various actions against it, by transferring weapons to Hezbollah “sleeper cells” that would attack senior Israeli officials, military officers, and politicians.