Israeli security agencies have dismantled a weapons smuggling cell in the Shechem area after a six-month long operation, the army said on Wednesday.
The joint IDF, Shin Bet, police and Customs Authority operation began in October after receiving intelligence from the Tax Authority about several packages, sent from abroad and to Shechem which included weapons parts.
The nine-member cell had been purchasing weapons and weapons parts ordered online. The components arrived in Israel via Ashdod or the Haifa Port where they were then sent on to the Balata neighborhood of Shechem.
A senior officer familiar with the operation said that “there was nothing suspicious about the packages from the outside.”
In December, security forces made the first arrest of the cell’s members, and transferred him to the Shin Bet for further interrogation.
During Tuesday’s overnight operation targeting the last weapons shop of the cell, forces found 10 sights for sniper rifles, 5 gun cartridges, 37 retaining clips, 62 gun handles, 12 lasers, and more.
The Arab terrorist owner of the store was arrested by security forces and transferred to the Shin Bet.
Throughout the operation, seven other Arab terrorists cell members were arrested and four weapons including an M16 and M1, and hundreds of parts of weapons were seized, as well as 130 bullets, 180 cartridges, 11 pistol cartridges, M16 parts ready for assembly, two weapon sights, binoculars, a hatchet, three vests.
According to the senior officer, it is likely that more weapons will be sent via the mail and while the operation netted a significant amount of weapons and weapons parts, Hamas is not behind the cell. “Hamas works differently, they use weapons that they know and the people they know and trust,” he said, adding that nonetheless “we deal with Hamas everyday, in every way.”
“People in Judea-Samaria know where to buy weapons, it’s a big problem”, he said.
Security forces believe that most of shooting attacks in Israel were carried out with weapons locally produced in Judea and Samaria, most commonly the Karl Gustav.
Israeli security forces, including the Shin Bet intelligence agency, Israeli Defense Forces and police, have increased their efforts to uncover unofficial workshops producing illegal weapons, carrying out near-nightly raids in Judea and Samaria, shutting down weapons factories and confiscating arms, greatly reducing the number of illegal weapons that could end up in the hands of potential terrorists.
Due to this, the price of the most popular weapon of choice, the Karl Gustav, has tripled in the past year, from 1,500 NIS in January 2015 to 4,500 in December 2016.
According to the senior officer, over 50 gun-making workshops have been shut down and over 500 illegal weapons seized in 2016, a significant increase from the 170 weapons seized in 2015.
“At the rate we are seeing now, we will surpass the number of seized weapons in 2017,” he said.