An American gun control activist visiting Israel would have a heart attack. Lots of Israelis carry guns. Not just police, but soldiers on leave and the ubiquitous pistol-armed security guards in front of supermarkets.
At the Jerusalem central bus station, young woman soldiers chatter away on cell phones, rifles casually slung over their shoulders as they wait for rides.
Yet the guns aren't really scary. Israeli drivers are terrifying, but their guns aren't. Despite being awash in arms, Israelis don't usually shoot each other. Perhaps it's because they're accustomed to being around guns...and trained to handle them safely.
Perhaps it's because Israelis treat guns as tools rather than as proof of manliness or political statements.
Unfortunately, all those arms has made Israel a shopper's paradise for the local mafia. Israeli organized crime is waging turf battles using weapons designed to destroy Hezbollah. Where Don Corleone would have sent Luca Brasi to settle a dispute with a knife, Israeli mobsters use explosives they obtained from military armories.
In February, someone tossed a grenade into a currency exchange in Petah Tivvah, injuring five people. Also that month, a car bomb exploded, killing a suspected criminal in Tel Aviv.
An Israel Defense Force military police report in January found a surge in weapons thefts. Some arms, including MAG machine guns, have disappeared from under the noses of soldiers at military bases. Thieves grabbed other weapons from homes where soldiers on leave had left them.
One reason for the increased pilferage is the fence Israel has built along its border with Egypt. Meant to keep terrorists and illegal migrants out, the barrier also reduces arms smuggling. But that just forces criminals to replenish their armories with domestic theft.
Over the last two years, police have confiscated 350 hand grenades, 1,000 stun grenades, 500 rifle grenades, 50 kilograms of explosives, 104 bricks of explosives, dozens of triggers, hundreds of meters of detonating wire, M-4 and Tavor rifles, and Glock handguns, according to Israeli newspapers.
"Police blamed poor security at IDF bases, which they said allows soldiers who are desperate for money — or those who have ties to crime — to give in to the temptation to steal weapons from storage and sell them on the black market," Israel National News reported.
It's not just Israel's military that has problems with theft. American street gangs are encouraging their members to enlist in the U.S. armed forces to learn combat skills and to steal arms, including artillery rounds.
In 2012, authorities arrested dozens of Marines for selling stolen weapons and night vision gear to China. They also tried to sell arms on eBay and Craigslist — and even at garage sales.
From drones to AKs, high technology to low politics, War is Boring explores how and why we fight above, on, and below an angry world. Sign up for its daily email update here or subscribe to its RSS Feed here.
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