JERUSALEM – The Israel Defense Forces began its annual “spring cleaning” last month, calling on former soldiers and reservists to return any military equipment they have without risking a court martial on charges of theft.
The campaign began on March 20 and ends on April 15. So far, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the army has received more than 160 weapons and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Col. Meirav Brikman, commander of the IDF’s Equipment Center, said “hundreds of grenades, explosive bricks, assault rifles, and handguns” were among the items returned, along with “a missile launcher from the 1980s and land mines.”
“Sometimes, we were surprised by what we saw,” Brikman told the Post. “We do not ask people why they had them, in line with the terms of our campaign.”
Holding military equipment outside a military base without permission is a criminal offense in Israel. During the so-called “spring cleaning,” the IDF promised not to grill Israelis and residents returning equipment on how they acquired it or whether they used or intended to use it.
Among the retrieved items were very old weapons used in past wars, including weapons from a War of Independence stash found on a kibbutz and a British rifle dating back to the 19th Century that had been given to a historian for analysis and never returned.
According to the military, the two main reasons for asking Israelis to return the equipment are security – preventing arms from reaching hostile entities – and safety -preventing harm from the deterioration of old explosives and ammunition not properly stored.
The military said all equipment will be examined and the items found to be still usable will be reused.
Head of the IDF’s Logistics Division Brig.-Gen. Yoram Azulai said the Logistics Division was leading the effort in cooperation with Israel Police and local authorities.
“After two major operations, like Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge, and additionally the major reorganization of the IDF, during which many units were closed down, it looks like a lot of military equipment that can become an environmental hazard remained in the hands of the public,” Azulai said, referring to Israel’s wars against Hamas in Gaza in 2012 and 2014.
He said that past IDF calls to the public to return military gear recovered equipment worth NIS 4.5 million ($1.18 million).