Police arrested 65 suspects involved in arms trafficking in the Arab community early on Tuesday in an operation dubbed "the biggest in the police's history."
Suspects from all around the West Bank and Israel, mostly from the country's north, East Jerusalem and the Triangle area have been arrested in the operation, which commenced in August.
As part of the operation, a former criminal who "crossed the lines" was recruited as an agent and purchased dozens of weapons, including 66 weapons that include 25 M-16 rifles, 14 guns, an anti-tank missile, a machine gun and explosives.
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Fourteen more suspects are expected to be arrested after having sold weapons to the police agent. Most of the weapons arrived from the West Bank.
"This is part of our war on violence and usage of illegal means to solve conflicts." said Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi, who led the operation.
"The illegal trafficking of arms in the Arab community has gone way out of proportion and become monstrous. We dried up the swamp a little, but this is not enough."
"The goal was not to randomly acquire arms, but to reach the biggest traffickers of weapons," says Lavi. "This is the biggest operation in the history of the police in terms of the number of suspects arrested and weapons acquired."
"Deterrence plays a big role here and I hope that these guys will be punished so fewer weapons will be reaching the Arab community."
He added that "Unfortunately there is a big demand for arms in the Arab community, partly because there is a lack of feeling of personal safety and easy access to weapons."
"The fight against arms in the Arab community has become an excuse for legislation that gives the police authority to conduct searched without warrants," Head of the Joint List Party Ayman Odeh wrote on Twitter.
"But the operation last night is a reminder that the police can work for the Arab citizens without abusing anti-democratic authorities, just like it works for the Jewish ones. Our children deserve to live in an egalitarian, democratic society free of weapons," he added.
According to the police, 78 of the biggest traffickers of illegal arms were incriminated. "The police agent operated under the cover of a soldier in a criminal organization who supplies arms for his big bosses," the police spokesperson said.
"I see behind this [operation] not only initiative, strategy and resoluteness but also how many lives were saved behind each weapon," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in response to the arrests. "It was one of the [police's] most sophisticated and bold operations." Bennett stressed that his government had set fighting crime in the Arab community as a national goal. "We declared war on lawbreakers in Arab society and we are taking action," he said. "The change is already being felt on the ground." He added: "I want to say to Israeli Arab citizens – you deserve personal safety and so we are at work here and will continue to work."
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that over 1,000 police officers and Border Police officers were involved in the countrywide operation. "The trend is to do successively more damage to crime organizations in Arab society," he commented. "We will work not only to jail criminals but also to do everything to impoverish them and to hurt them in their pockets."
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: "We set dealing with crime and illegal arms in the Arab community as a primary national goal. Determination, creativity and perseverance are the right way to dry up the swamp – we are doing it!"
On Friday, a 38-year-old man was shot dead in the northern city of Nahariya, raising the death toll of murder victims in the Arab community to 106.
According to statistics from the Abraham Initiatives Association, 13 of those killed are women and 51 of the murdered were under the age of 30. In 87 of the cases the murder weapon was a firearm.
The past two years have seen growth in public awareness of violence in the Arab community. In 2019, demonstrators began taking to the streets against the institutional neglect they say has abandoned them to crime families that operate freely in their cities.
Early in October, the first meeting of the ministerial committee for combatting violence in the Arab community was held as part of the new coalition's attempt to tackle the issue in earnest.
The committee approved several general decisions, including involvement by the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces in collecting illegal weapons.
The plan also calls for recruiting 1,100 more police officers and creating financial bodies that deal with the extortion of protection money.