IDF Company Commander and Driver Suspected of Stealing Arms From Ammo Depot

Stolen cache included fragmentation grenades and LAW anti-tank weapons. Commander's lawyer says his client comes from a good home, was threatened by criminals.

Mohammed Zoabi, right, with his lawyer in court, August 8, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A company commander in Israel's Bedouin tracking battalion is suspected of stealing numerous grenades and missiles from an ammunition depot along with two accomplices.

The suspects are Capt. Shadi Bashir, a 24-year-old resident of Zarzir, the commander; his driver, Adi Zoabi, a 24-year-old resident of Tamra; and Zoabi's father, Mohammed Zoabi.

According to the police, 77 fragmentation grenades, 13 LAW anti-tanke weapons and a Meteor missile, which is an anti-tank missile for urban areas, were stolen from the Rimon unit on Yemen Base, which is located in the south, on May 4. The police and the Israel Defense Forces opened a joint investigation, leading to the arrest of the three.

"During the intensive investigation run in the police's central unit, in cooperation with the IDF's central unit for special investigations, the suspected company commander said that in late April he and his driver loaded the weapons from the bunker that was broken into, and brought them to driver's father at a major junction in the south," the police stated. The commander received in return tens of thousands of shekels, according to the investigation.

Army officials say the commander, together with his driver and another suspect planned other weapons thefts. Police officials say the father also confessed. However, he and his son deny the accusations.

The Southern District Attorney is expected to file an indictment against the father on Thursday, while the Military Advocate General is expected to file indictments of the two soldiers. A police official stressed, "Efforts will continue to recover the many weapons stolen before they make their way to criminal or hostile elements."

The arrest of the company commander follows the dismissal of the Bedouin battalion's commander for conducting illicit sexual relations with a female officer serving under his command at the battalion's headquarters. The battalion commander was suspended by a decision of the Southern Area Commander, Gen. Eyal Zamir. He is expected to face a disciplinary trial soon.

The army is fighting against thefts of guns, viewing equipment and weapons sought after by criminal organizations. There has been a rise in the theft of weapons on army bases in recent years, peaking at 11 such cases in 2015, the highest figure in recent years.

Attorney Rafi Masalha, who represents the Zoabis, said he was awaiting receipt of investigative material. He denied that Mohammed Zoabi had confessed. "They played an investigative trick on him, asserting that it worked," he said. "I assert it didn't work." Masalha said the Zoabis are suspected of trading and possessing arms.

Attorney Shmuel Barazani, who represents Capt. Bashir, commented that the investigative units know that there is a huge difference between his client's role and that of the others in the case. He said Bashir provided testimony that shows that he was not a partner to the crimes. "During and after the theft, he was threatened by criminals and therefore could not have acted differently than he did," said Barazani. "He did not have a hand in stealing or trading. He is the son of a wonderful family whose sons are all in security institutions and combat units. His family's heritage is totally different than this incident."