Israeli forces raid West Bank weapons factories in crackdown effort

Andrew Tobin, JTA

Israeli security forces shut down six illegal weapons manufacturing factories in the West Bank in what a senior army officer said was among the biggest such operations yet in an ongoing crackdown.

The raids conducted jointly by the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet and Israel Police took place Monday night in cities and towns across the territory.

“Last night, after research and analysis, we decided to clamp down on several warehouses and factories that manufacture guns and arms. From six of these seven warehouses we found advanced weapons technology,” the senior officer told JTA and other reporters in a telephone briefing on background.

Factories were discovered at six of seven locations, the senior officer said. Fifty-four weapons were seized, along with gun parts and 22 lathes, according to the army. Two suspects were arrested, including a major arms dealer.

The Israel Defense Forces has been targeting weapons production, dealing and possession in the West Bank since the start of this year amid a wave of Palestinian violence targeting Israelis. The senior officer said 49 weapons production machines had been shut down over that time. The army said 29 factories were shut down and over 300 weapons were confiscated. Each plant typically houses one or two such machines, though sometimes there are more, the senior officer said.

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“This year, the forces have arrested more than 140 arms manufacturers and dealers,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement. “The IDF will continue to decisively act against the production infrastructure and trade of weapons and thwart terrorism.”

The Israeli army believes there are hundred of plants and thousands or tens of thousands of illegal weapons on the streets of the West Bank. A single plant can produce up to dozens of weapons a day, according to the senior officer. Only Palestinian security personnel may legally possess weapons.

While eradicating illegal weapons in the West Bank is not feasible, the army seeks to make them harder and more expensive to acquire. At this point, Palestinians can buy a homemade Carlo Gustav gun for less than $1,000.

“The main thing we try to do is stop the situation were every 15-year-old can put his hands on a gun and murder civilians,” the senior officer said.

The “Carlo,” as the popular automatic weapon is known, has been used in the majority of the shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel since the beginning October, when the “lone wolf intifada” is said to have begun. Notably, the gun, which is inaccurate with limited range, was used by two Palestinian cousins in June to shoot up the Max Brenner cafe in the Sarona outdoor shopping center in central Tel Aviv. Four Israelis were killed and several seriously injured in the terrorist attack.

Thirty-five Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in Palestinian stabbings, car rammings and shootings since October. At least 214 Palestinians have been killed, some two-thirds of them during attacks and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the army. Angry or unstable Palestinians, most of them young men, are conducting independent attacks because the army has successfully dismantled the terrorist organizations that once operated in the West Bank, the senior officer said.

The army has developed its capabilities to clamp down on illegal weapons in the West Bank in response to their use against Israelis. Weapons are also smuggled from Jordan and stolen from Israeli army bases, the senior officer said. As of yet, the army is not aware of any rockets manufacturing in the West Bank, as happens in the Gaza Strip, but has thwarted past attempts by terrorist organizations to start, he said.

In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority has also conducted operations against illegal weapons in the areas of the West Bank under its control. The weapons are mainly used in crime and conflict between Palestinian clans, and in most cases, terrorists use weapons they or family members already own, the senior officer said

Asked about security coordination, the senior officer said the Palestinian Authority, which governs much of the West Bank, acts according to its own interests. But he said the army is supportive of the authority’s efforts and believes reducing the number of illegal weapons held by Palestinians serves both sides.