Photo Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90
Israeli all-terrain vehicles (archive).

“All of the Tze’elim firing zones belong to us,” Bedouin gang member Ahmed (name made up) declared in an exclusive interview with Israel’s 12News channel (“הצבא יושב על האדמות שלנו, אנחנו משחדים חיילים שיתנו לנו לגנוב“). “The state stole our land,” he continued, “They expelled us. We’re stealing back what belongs to us. The state thinks we are the Bedouin suckers. The army is sitting on my land and I will continue to enter firing zones and steal everything there is until the soldiers leave.”

On Sunday this week just before 7 AM, Ahmed collected with his ATV (all-terrain vehicle) a friend who was waiting near one of the dunes in Bir Hadaj near Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev and rode at an insane speed towards the firing zone of Tze’elim base, to steal soldiers’ equipment and ammunition, load up while in motion, and escape.


Both men were wearing IDF work uniforms and their heads were wrapped in keffiyehs and green wool hats to avoid recognition. Only their eyes were barely visible. Ahmed quickly crossed the tent camp where the soldiers who had just woken up did not comprehend what was going on. In a few seconds, the two Bedouin managed to steal a few big duffle bags and sleeping bags, fled the scene, and disappeared as if swallowed by the dunes. The soldiers were left speechless and shocked, unable to respond.

Ahmed revealed for the first time that he and some of his gang members regularly bribe IDF soldiers who in return allowing them to enter bases to steal bullets.

“We have our people at the bases. They let us in whenever we ask or they turn a blind eye and let us steal bullets, uniforms, and escape. Some times we stole a Sufa Jeep. We pay them sometimes 1,000 shekel, sometimes 2,000 shekel, it depends. From time to time, we also bring them a bag of marijuana,” Ahmed said.

The AIL Storm (Hebrew: Sufa) is a Jeep Wrangler-based Israeli manufactured off-road vehicle which is the workhorse of the Israeli Security Forces.

It is estimated that more than ten Bedouin gangs operate in the firing zones of Tze’elim and other IDF bases in the Negev, with hundreds of criminals who are involved in the thefts. They steal all kinds of ammunition: bullets, cartridges, rifles, stun, and cluster grenades. They steal military equipment: night vision goggles, tents, sleeping bags, tent pegs, soldiers’ personal bags.

Personal vehicles belonging to reservists have also been stolen from the parking lot of the Tze’elim base, military jeeps, jet fuel, skeletons of old tanks, and vehicles placed in fire areas as targets for training air force pilots and armored units.

“There have been quite a few cases where pilots have flown to firing zones and returned after a few minutes because they did not locate the targets,” an Air Force officer reported. “There were targets in the form of old tanks from past wars and the Bedouin gangs stole them. They cause very heavy damage. They disrupt training and often cause training to be canceled.”

An officer at Tze’elim base recently testified: “We stopped a lot of training because thieves infiltrated the area while armored forces and fighters from different units trained. Any interruption of training costs millions of shekels. They have caused the cancellation of dozens of training sessions in the past year. Someone needs to address this phenomenon. We are used to facing off with terrorists but not with thieves.”

Last week, for example, a Bedouin criminal who escaped from the police entered a firing zone, and all training was stopped for four hours during which a chase ensued and the IDF endured a significant financial loss.

Ahmed, in his mid-twenties, leads one of the largest and most ruthless gangs operating in the firing zones of Tze’elim and other IDF bases in the Negev. He has already served several prison sentences for property offenses, including stealing targets from firing zones. But he says prison doesn’t deter him.

“I stole tank skeletons from firing zones, old cars the army threw down for training. Anything that has money in it we steal. We have lots of families to feed. The soldiers are afraid to go near us. They know that if we have to, we’ll defend ourselves.”

When asked what would happen if the soldiers opened fire on him, the head of a Bedouin gang answered emphatically: “Whoever tries to shoot me I will shoot him back. We have Kalashnikovs and M-16s, and enough ammunition to hit whoever hits us. They should not try to attack us. It would be a war with many dead.”

“We are constantly monitoring the soldiers,” Ahmad noted. “We gather intelligence – when do they go out for training, how many soldiers guard the tents, where can they be surprised without our getting caught. We know everything about them. The same with the guards at the gates. We do tours around with a toolbox and where the fence is low and can be entered or cut we go in and steal bullets, weapons, uniforms. Whatever is worth money.”

Most of the military equipment is sold to arms and ammunition dealers working with terrorist groups in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, as well as to Jewish and Arab criminal organizations operating in the Arab Triangle, the Sharon valley and the north of the country. The IDF uniforms and Sufa jeeps are sold to Egyptian drug smugglers who cross the border into Israel, helping them to camouflage their operations.

And if that’s not enough, last week thieves infiltrated the Tze’elim base and stole nine containers with sophisticated technological equipment used for training units in firing zones. According to sources familiar with that operation, some of the gangs have in recent weeks started using drones to locate vulnerabilities in the security system to penetrate the bases.

Last week, three young Bedouin infiltrated the Be’er Sheva (Teyman) airfield. They confronted soldiers and one of them threw a training grenade at the IDF force. The IDF has increased the security around the southern bases, but not nearly sufficiently.

“We are being abandoned,” a soldier at the Teyman airfield raged in an interview with 12News this week. “And then you wonder why there are thefts. I can’t confront and shoot them because the IDF will arrest me, I’ll sit in jail and my life will be destroyed.”

The same soldier added: “As far as I’m concerned, these thieves are worse than terrorists. The rules of engagement need to be changed, to determine that an ammunition thief is like a terrorist can be shot. In the meantime, we are helpless, unable to do anything. I feel like a mannequin.”

A soldier at the Tze’elim base painted a similarly gloomy picture. “You’re not allowed to shoot them, they come in riding their ATVs, stealing whatever they want and I’m like a snowman. I’m not allowed to do anything. We call the police, and by the time they arrive, the thieves have already fled with all the ammunition and equipment. If we don’t change the rules of engagement, we might as well open up the bases and let the Bedouin steal whatever they want. Why do you need guards at the base if they are not allowed to confront with them?”

The IDF spokesman responded: “The area of base protection and the manner of handling and dealing with incidents of theft and burglary at the bases is handled by the General Staff and the ongoing engagement of the senior echelon of the army. The IDF attaches paramount importance to learning lessons and in-depth conclusions from any event in order to significantly reduce this serious phenomenon. All incidents are thoroughly investigated and handled by all relevant parties, alongside the military police which investigates each case on its own merits. The IDF is not aware of soldiers receiving bribes. With regard to the rules of engagement, including with regard to theft incidents, we emphasize that the rules are conveyed in a clear and regular manner to the soldiers.”

Anyone out there speaks Tzahaleze?


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