Suspected Palestinian car thief indicted for breaking into sensitive air base

20-year-old from Dahariya charged with entering Israel illegally, among other violations; two suspected Israeli accomplices still under investigation

Police arrested on February 21, 2021 the suspected Palestinian car thief who broke into the Nevatim airbase on February 8, 2021. (Screenshot: Israel Police)
Police arrested on February 21, 2021 the suspected Palestinian car thief who broke into the Nevatim airbase on February 8, 2021. (Screenshot: Israel Police)

A Palestinian man was indicted Thursday for breaking into a highly sensitive Israeli Air Force base last month after stealing a car, leading security forces on an hours-long manhunt inside the facility.

The 20-year-old, from the southern West Bank village of Dahariya, allegedly stole a car in Dimona and when police began chasing him, drove into the Nevatim airbase — home to F-35 stealth fighter jets, the military’s most advanced aircraft — through a gate that had been left open, puncturing the vehicle’s tires on security spikes.

He continued on foot into the city-sized base, leading to a massive search involving ground troops, helicopters, and special forces, which ended some seven hours later after it was determined that the suspect had in fact fled the base less than an hour after entering, according to the military.

The suspect was charged with entering Israel illegally, driving without a valid license, attempted car theft, entering a military zone, obstructing a police officer performing his duties, and more.

A stolen car that was abandoned inside the Israeli Air Force’s Nevatim base after alleged thieves drove into the facility, puncturing the tires on security spikes at the gate, on February 8, 2021. (Israel Police)

Alongside the Palestinian man, police arrested two alleged Israeli accomplices — a taxi driver from the Bedouin town of Arara and a resident of the desert town of Dimona, where the initial car theft allegedly took place — who were suspected of helping the man make his escape from the base. None of their names have been released.

According to the police, the three men worked as a team to steal the car from Dimona, with the plan being to drive it to the West Bank and resell it there.

Police said that after the man climbed out of the base undetected, he was picked up by the taxi driver, who ferried him to the West Bank.

The suspected accomplices are still under investigation, a spokesperson for the police said.

The indictment mentions that the search operations and the protection of base assets — including F-35 jets — cost an estimated NIS 108,000 ($32,500), due to the large deployment of forces and use of police helicopters.

An Israeli Air Force soldier directs an F-35 fighter jet during a surprise exercise, ‘Galilee Rose,’ in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The incident represented an embarrassing, highly public breach of security for what is considered one of the Air Force’s most important bases, which should be more difficult to break into than by simply driving through a gate and running inside.

“The incident will be investigated and the necessary lessons will be learned,” the military said in a statement after the incident.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report

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