The war on guns in the West Bank has become a major part of Israel’s counterterrorism effort.
The upsurge in terror that began last October has gradually waned for several reasons. The most important are the improvement in Israel’s monitoring of Palestinian social media (which enables lone-wolf attackers to be identified before they can strike), closer security coordination with the Palestinian Authority and the growing sentiment among Palestinians that the attacks have cost Palestinian lives without producing any diplomatic or other benefits.
But as the stabbing attacks abated, lone-wolf assailants and small cells unaffiliated with terrorist organizations became more interested in obtaining guns, precisely because they are vastly more lethal than knives or firebombs.
To date, most of the guns used in such attacks have been homemade. Standardized weapons are held mainly by the PA security services, whose members, with a few exceptions, haven’t participated in anti-Israel terror. But the scarcity of these weapons on the black market (where a single M-16 or Kalashnikov rifle can fetch upward of 50,000 shekels, about $13,000) has provided an opening for manufacturers of homemade guns.
The growing demand for such guns has led to improved manufacturing processes. Israel Defense Forces officers describe workshops that have been turned into bona fide factories and turn out dozens of rifles and pistols every month. Moreover, these guns are more accurate and more lethal, and jam less frequently, than the homemade guns used in the territories in the past. Yet they remain affordable for a small, independent terrorist cell: from 10,000 to 20,000 shekels for a pistol, and only 2,000 to 5,000 shekels for a Carl Gustav submachine gun.
Some of these guns are sold to terrorist cells, others to Palestinian criminals. Still others go to ordinary Palestinians who want them for self-defense in the face of rising crime.
Israeli intelligence detected this trend belatedly. As Haaretz reported in March, police had already warned a few years ago that homemade weapons were being produced in the West Bank and sold to Israeli criminals. But only with the increase in Palestinian shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians did the IDF and the Shin Bet security service decide to focus on the illegal weapons industry. More than 30 such attacks have occurred since the start of this year.
Tueday’s predawn raid was the largest of its kind to date. The security forces raided seven factories around Bethlehem and Hebron and arrested people suspected of making or trafficking in weapons. The goal, which is necessary given the severity of the threat, is to gradually impair the entire supply chain — manufacturers, sellers, middlemen and buyers.
Nevertheless, this industry clearly won’t be eliminated entirely. So far this year, around 400 guns have been seized in the West Bank. But given the widespread demand and the chance of making large profits, other production lines will spring up even if Israel turns up the heat on those involved.
Meanwhile, along the Gaza border, the tensions that flared earlier this week seem to be subsiding. The fact that Israel’s massive airstrikes Sunday night, in response to a rocket launched at Sderot, caused almost no Palestinian casualties evidently allowed Hamas to consider the matter closed.
Israel used the rocket fire as an opportunity for the air force to bomb “tactical assets.” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who toured an IDF base up north on Tuesday, once again declared that Israel won’t let Hamas dig cross-border tunnels.
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