Bedouins in live-fire zone in Tze'elim Base
Bedouins in live-fire zone in Tze'elim BaseRegavim

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by MK Avi Dichter (Likud) held a short discussion today on the subject of "dealing with thefts from bases and live-fire zones", presented by MK Anat Berko (Likud).

IDF Operations Department head Col. Eran Uliel is the person responsible for securing IDF bases. "A reservist who comes to serve shouldn't find himself injured as a victim of violence or delinquency, but it must be remembered that the IDF is not the body entrusted with treating crime.

"As commander of a reserve brigade in the past, I know that all briefings emphasize personal responsibility for equipment," explained Uliel, detailing investments in the millions of shekels for IDF infrastructure to make it harder on thieves.

Col. Uliel and Col. Gil Mamon, commander of the Military Police Investigations Unit, referred to the division of powers between the bodies, since the IDF has no authority to detain or interrogate civilians. If a civilian is caught stealing while inside a military base, a joint team of the military Criminal Investigation Division and the Israel Police is in place to investigate.

According to them, a parking lot near a base or live-fire zone is not considered part of the base, and therefore responsibility for these areas is in the hands of the police, with whom cooperation is excellent and is only getting tighter.

Colonel Mamon presented the committee with astonishing figures - in the last two years there were about 50 incidents of theft per year at the Land Training Center alone. Colonel Mamon added that these are only cases that were reported to the IDF, and that there may well be cases in which reservists contacted the police directly, or decided there was no point in reporting at all.

Police Intelligence Division representative Superintendent Ronen Yishai confirmed that cooperation with the army is unprecedented. "These are usually criminal organizations looking for standard IDF weapons and not improvised rifles, as they have in the territories. If in a classic criminal incident you put an emphasis on catching the offender, here there's an equal emphasis on locating the weapons, if not more, and the smaller the theft, the harder it is to locate the thief.

"It's also important to remember that fire zones are huge, and there's no way of knowing where the thief, usually with a 4x4 vehicle, came from. The police manpower situation doesn't allow a permanent guard to be placed in an IDF base parking lot for a week of training, without negatively affecting other equally vital activity."

A series of reservists came to the discussion, all of whom expressed feelings of anger, helplessness, and even lack of faith in the IDF and its way of coping with the phenomenon.

Meir Deutsch, a major in the reserves and a representative of the Regavim Jewish rights movement, said at the hearing that according to information in his possession only five indictments were filed, and surprised committee members by presenting a ruling according to which the State was obligated to pay compensation to a thief who broke into a storehouse of explosives.

Arik Greenstein, a reservist, said, "The CID has no data because we simply don't see the point of reporting. The rules of engagement in the south are like in Tel Aviv, and no reserve soldier will act because he doesn't want to get into trouble. He comes to train for the next war and doesn't want a long legal investigation and lawyers costs."

Itamar Cohen, a company commander in the reserves, said that when the equipment was tied to his vehicle, an all-terrain vehicle pulled up at the side of his car, the riders cut the chains while they were driving and got away with the equipment. "An incident takes place at three in the morning. By six o'clock, the security bodies have information about what was stolen and who has it, so why don't they do anything?" Cohen wondered.

Im Tirtzu movement policy department head Alon Shvartzer said that "the plague of theft is causing serious damage to state security, causing cessation of training, leakage of weapons to terrorist organizations and organized crime, and weakening of the IDF's deterrent power. This phenomenon is well known and the correct way to deal with it is not by acting defensively, but going beyond that to initiative and prevention.

"We demand that the IDF deal with a problem that threatens us with the same commitment as when we come to practice in the field when we're called. The reservists are the spearhead of the State of Israel, but no one backs them up and prevents the next theft," Schwartzer explained.

MK Berko, initiator of the discussion, said: "The Shin Bet was running after every explosive belt while IDF warehouses became a weapons storehouse for terror and criminal organizations. This crime crosses sectors, religions, and communities. The worst of all, beyond the loss of deterrence and the prevailing anarchy, is that the issue harms the morale and motivation of the soldiers.

"Armed soldiers robbed in broad daylight," Barako stressed. "I propose we end this disgrace. Cooperation between the army and the police is terrible. Power to arrest should be delegated to soldiers. In addition, a deterrent force must be created in the area that can track the criminals to their villages," she said.

MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said "the biggest underworld weapon supplier is the IDF with a significant gap to those in second place. It can't only be dealt with through fortifying the base, rather we must create deterrence. We do everything to cherish reservists as they go about their civilian lives, and then they come to reserve duty and there they are abandoned without proper guard."

Committee Chairman MK Dichter summed up the discussion: "The committee recently visited the Land Training Center and saw impressive capabilities, but also heard very frustrating things from the staff about the theft phenomenon, the scope of which is appalling. We train units for operations, and on the other side of the fence there may be an IDF weapon waiting to be used against them.

"The bald chutzpah, to our understanding, doesn't meet a firm line from the soldiers or the IDF, even though when an enforcement officer becomes the target of the offense, it's clear that this causes multiple damage. After all, entering the fire zone is a violation of the law even before the theft, and they do it without any problem," he said.

"The loss of deterrence that's broadcast here, and the harsh feelings of reservists make it clear that this will be the first discussion on the subject and by no means the last, and in May we will hold a discussion in which we will demand a response from the highest echelons of the enforcement bodies," MK Dichter emphasized.