Sweep Against Arab Arms Dealers Shows Police Have Changed – and So Has Israel's Arab Community

The arrests also demonstrate that the police have the necessary tools to address crime in the Arab community without involving the Shin Bet

Jack Khoury
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, inspects weapons confiscated in this week's police sweep against Arab arms dealers.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, inspects weapons confiscated in this week's police sweep against Arab arms dealers.Credit: Yossi Aloni/Flash90
Jack Khoury

This week’s arrest of 65 people suspected of illegal arms dealing in Israel’s Arab community is undoubtedly very important. It reinforces the sense that Israeli law enforcement has shifted into high gear in addressing crime in the Arab community – and it’s already showing results on the ground.

On Tuesday, the police also saw to it to show off in impressive fashion the weapons haul that their operation produced. With Arab mayors, the public security minister, the police commissioner and top police brass in attendance, they displayed dozens of firearms seized in the operation. That’s not a common sight, even for the Arab public.

Did the operation increase the sense of personal security among the country’s Arabs? Only time will tell. But for the time being, signs of change are already apparent in Arab communities, at least when it comes to the presence of the police and efforts to address the threat from organized crime organizations. The police operation not only involved arrests but also hit at the criminals’ sources of revenue.

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But the police still haven’t been able to produce a real picture of victory. The weapons put on display for the media are insufficient to strike a decisive blow against organized crime.

Nevertheless, there are several aspects of the operation worth considering for their significance: Most of the firearms that were confiscated originally came from Israeli security forces or were smuggled in from abroad – from Jordan and Lebanon. So that aspect of the problem is the responsibility of the Israeli army and the Israel Police – which oversee arms depots and the country’s borders.

And then there’s the issue of the motivation and capabilities of the police. They have made it clear that planning for the operation began about a year ago – before the controversial idea of involving the Shin Bet security service in the fight against crime in the Arab community even arose – and prior to legislative amendments and the establishment of new operational police units.

That demonstrates that even in the absence of such new “innovations,” the police had sufficient means to carry out such an expensive and complicated operation, one that has led to dozens of arrests and produced evidence for use in prosecuting the suspects.

Another aspect is how the public on the ground has responded. According to a police statement, the operation targeted more than 20 communities, including major Arab towns. The arrests were carried at homes and other facilities in the heart of Arab population centers. Yet the scope of the raids and the large number of police personnel involved, including special units, did not prompt a backlash on the ground or in social media.

We only need to recall the situation six months earlier to understand how things have changed. In the unrest around the country in May during the war that Israel fought against Hamas in Gaza, every arrest in the course of Israeli-Arab community protests at the time was met with anger, frustration and sometimes violence. It also prompted the formation of local committees and the provision of legal aid to detainees.

But the scene this week with the police display of confiscated weapons looked entirely different. Now the Arab mayors are saying that anyone involved in criminal activity should have the book thrown at them. And if they require legal assistance, they can pay for it themselves.

Illegal weapons seized in this week's police operation.Credit: Police Spokesperson's Office

The differences are of singular significance: that Israeli Arab society is capable of distinguishing between police operations aimed at enhancing personal security and operations of a more political nature, even if they both have involved the same police.

That needs to trickle down from the top brass to the most junior policeman on the beat. Such an approach will boost trust and lead to a change in direction, particularly for Arab citizens with concerns about their personal safety. It might also result in a change in terminology. People may begin talking about “police services” rather than “police forces.”

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