Israeli Arab terror fueled by availability of weapons

Guns seized by the police Photo: GPO Haim Zach

There is little overlap between organized crime and radical nationalism in Israeli Arab society, but firearms can be easily purchased. "Globes" investigates.

Two of the recent terror attacks were carried out by Israeli citizens - two cousins from Umm El Fahm killed two people in Hadera on Sunday and a Negev Bedouin from Hura killed four people in Beersheva last week. This is the first major trouble since last May during the Gaza operation, when rioting in mixed Arab-Jewish cities resulted in the death of three Jews and one Arab.

Those clashes lit a warning light with the security forces, especially the police and Shin Bet, with one of the main concerns being that the events would provide fertile ground for the growth of terror cells, like those we have seen in recent days. One security source said that the biggest surprise is that it has taken 10 months to happen. Another concern was regarding a wave of nationalism in Israeli Arab society, resulting in a popular uprising during a war or crisis.

Organized crime is distanced from nationalism

Researchers from Israel's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) wrote in a report published in January, "The violent clashes that erupted between Jews and Arabs with a nationalist-religious background in April-May 2021, did not reflect a popular uprising against authority and the state but mainly frustration by individuals and groups about their civil situation as frustrated and angry individuals as an excluded minority in the state. Despite that, the belief being formed by Israel Police is that they should prepare for an 'Internal Intifada' that will happen again in the future and be more powerful including use of firearms."

INSS added, 'Framing the struggle against violence and crime in Arab society as a 'war' against the internal enemy, and defining the events of April-May 2021 as an internal Intifada, and as a popular uprising against the authorities and the state, creates a distorted and biased image of reality."

The INSS claims that the spread of serious violence and crime in Arab society and the growth of organized crime is not happening due to nationalistic reasons and does not express a separatist trend. The report added that those involved in crime in Arab society, and certainly organized crime, are careful to avoid hitting Jewish targets and are not interested in being identified with radical nationalist organizations and Palestinian terror.

However, the right-wing Kohelet Policy Forum dismisses claims that the rioting was by individuals frustrated for socio-economic reasons and insists it was nationalistic in essence. They present an analysis and segmentation of those arrested following the riots, and claim that most did not belong to poor families or the unemployed and that participation in the rioting transcended class and social characteristics.

Nevertheless, Kohelet agrees with INSS's conclusions that the overlap between organized crime and nationalistic events is small. An analysis of those arrested by the police and Shin Bet after last year's rioting, at least in the north, found that only 10% of the Arabs arrested had criminal files.

Seizing hundreds out of hundreds of thousands

But where there is an overlap between crime and nationalism is in the problematic and painful subject of the availability of weapons in Israeli Arab society. According to various estimates the number of guns in Arab society runs to the hundreds of thousands. During a recent Knesset discussion the number of 400,000 illegal weapons was mentioned but the source of the figure was not clear. In a special report by the State Comptroller asking how Israel Police is coping with the stockpiling of illegal weapons and shooting incidents in Israel Arab and mixed towns, it was said police officers in the coastal district decided that 'almost every Arab household has a gun." Such a statement fits with the estimation that there are hundreds of thousands of guns.

In recent years, and especially since last summer, the police have been focusing their efforts against organized crime and illegal weapons. Since the beginning of 2022, there has been a 39% rise in the number of indictments relating to illegal weapons (301 by mid-March compared with 217 in the corresponding period of 2021) and a rise of 4% in the number of cases opened (813 versus 780). By mid-March, 495 weapons had been seized, a rise of 35% from 366 in the corresponding period of 2021. But a police source stressed to us, "We are seizing and seizing but it is no more than a few pales of water from the well."

Where do the weapons come from? Some are stolen from Israeli army bases, either by breaking into the base or from criminal soldiers who pass on weapons to criminal organizations. Some are smuggled in from Jordan or Lebanon and some are manufactured in workshops, especially in the Palestinian territories where the main product is the highly unreliable Carlo machine gun and some are converted from the Airsoft game gun into a lethal weapon. In recent months restrictions have been imposed on importing the Airsoft guns.

According to police sources, a gun can be purchased for NIS 3,000 - 10,000 and an M16 military machine gun can be bought for NIS 20,000-40,000. A hand grenade costs NIS 2,500-5000.

In other words, the terrorists from Umm El Fahm, who came equipped with guns and hundreds of bullets would not have found it difficult to obtain the weapons with which to launch their attack. There was no need to seek a consignment from ISIS but just go out and buy the weapons from near where they lived.

So what next? The program for eliminating crime and violence in Arab society for which the government has allocated NIS 2.4 billion deals with the seizing of weapons but not the issue of nationalism. That is the Shin Bet's domain. The Shin Bet's strength and capabilities are considered to be first class but that did not prevent the three attacks over the past week. Three out of the four terrorists involved had previously been imprisoned for nationalist activity and at least in the case of the Umm El Fahm terrorists, and their connect to ISIS, the Shin Bet is investigating how they evaded their monitoring. The Shin Bet is holding an internal investigation on whether there were any organizational failures or structural problems in not identifying the recent attacks. At the same time the fact that the recent attacks were carried out by Israelis strengthens the organization's demand for more resources and capabilities as well as reduced legal restrictions on their operations for preventing this kind of terror.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 31, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Guns seized by the police Photo: GPO Haim Zach
Guns seized by the police Photo: GPO Haim Zach
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018