AZZUN, West Bank — In the predawn hours, 150 Israeli troops, including masked special-forces operatives, arrived in this Palestinian town in armored personnel carriers and hardened jeeps to hunt for guns and gun makers. They found one of each. The operation was deemed a success.
The raid in Azzun was part of an aggressive campaign by Israel to rid the occupied West Bank of guns — specifically, a crude kind of handmade submachine gun known on the Palestinian street as the “Carlo,” after the Swedish model, the Carl Gustav m/45, developed in the last years of World War II.
In the past 12 months, Israeli forces have confiscated 350 guns and busted 35 workshops, where moonlighting machinists manufacture the barrels, receivers and other components of the Carlo, according to the Israelis.
The Palestinian towns of the West Bank might be among the few places in the Middle East not awash in cheap AK-47s and surplus M-16s.
It is generally illegal for Palestinian civilians to own any type of firearm, including hunting rifles. Ownership can bring a prison sentence. In contrast, Jewish settlers in the West Bank are granted permits and carry weapons openly.
The relative scarcity of AK-47s in the West Bank — compared with hot spots such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — has been won by relentless Israeli pressure, with assistance from the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security forces, which supply Israeli authorities with intelligence about guns and their makers.
On Monday, Israeli soldiers burst into Nazar Odey’s machine shop in Azzun, where they found what they suspected were gun barrels and bullets, both only half-finished. His drill presses and lathes were muscled out of the shop, dragged by a crane and hauled away by the Israeli army. The doors to the shop, which specialized in retooling brake drums, were welded shut.
A mile away and an hour earlier, the 46-year-old father of five was rousted from bed in his pajamas, interrogated in his living room and arrested.
So were six other men in the town. Acting on a tip, the Israeli soldiers searched one suspect’s home. A sniffer dog found a gun hidden inside the headboard of a bed, beneath a pile of clothes. The Carlo appeared to be a kind of Frankenstein weapon, a crude assemblage of multiple disparate parts.
In other houses around Azzun, the Israelis arrested five more men who are suspects in a shooting that took place two weeks ago, when a sniper using a Carlo shot out a tire on a minivan driven by an Israeli along the highway that passes in front of the Palestinian town.
The assailant was unlucky or incompetent, but his intent was to kill, said Col. Roi Sheetrit, the Efraim Brigade commander who led the raid.
He called Azzun “a classic terror village.” He said that finding one gun is not as important as shutting down a gun maker.
“It looks harsh, but there is no room for leniency,” Sheetrit said.
Israeli news media usually characterize all confiscated guns as potential “terror weapons.”
But Israeli commanders acknowledge that many guns cached by Palestinians might be used for self-defense, in clan feuds or by criminals protecting turf.
“We want to get to the point where there will not be a single weapon in the West Bank,” a senior Israeli commander said in an interview with The Washington Post.
“Our logic is simple: The illegal weapons industry is one of the enablers of attacks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security protocols.
“If we target this industry and reduce it, then the cost of weapons will go up,” he said. “Those looking for guns will have to make more arrangements and meet more people in order to get the weapons. People will make more mistakes, and the weapons will cost more.”
In the West Bank today, a do-it-yourself submachine gun sells for about $500, although the Israelis say the price is going up, to as high as $1,000.
A military-grade weapon manufactured abroad, such as an M-16, can cost $5,000 or more.
The lack of guns in the West Bank means that the year-long wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli soldiers and civilians has been carried out mostly by teenagers armed with kitchen knives or adults who use their families’ cars to ram into pedestrians. Palestinians are frustrated by the almost 50-year military occupation and motivated by personal, religious and nationalist reasons to attack Israelis.
Young Palestinian men and women who approach Israeli checkpoints with knives are usually shot dead or wounded at the scene; they rarely kill or seriously injure their targets with their knives.
But with guns in their hands, the equation changes.
The Israelis are worried about what they see as an uptick in attacks with guns.
There have been 22 major assaults using firearms in the past year, according to a tally by The Post. The most recent was unusual because the assailant was armed not with a crude Carlo gun but an M-16-style weapon.
On Sunday, the Palestinian gunman, known to Israeli police for violence and also incitement on social media, killed two Israelis — a police officer and a 60-year-old woman — and wounded several others while firing from his car in Jerusalem.
The Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the gunman was one of its own — likely a supporter and not a member of the armed wing.
Israeli police are focusing on who might have provided the gun. The West Bank village where the gunman lived, Al-Ram, was the scene of multiple raids and riots earlier in the week.
Since October 2015, there has been a steady stream of stabbings, attempted stabbings, vehicular attacks and shootings by Palestinians against Israelis in Israel and the West Bank. The attacks have killed 38 Israelis, two U.S. citizens, an Eritrean and 230 Palestinians. Israelis say the majority of Palestinians killed were carrying out attacks.
Most of the other gun attacks over the past year have been carried out with Carlos.
One of the most deadly occurred in June at a trendy open-air food and shopping mall in Tel Aviv. The two Palestinian attackers dressed as businessmen, wearing jackets and ties.
Security camera footage showed the frustration of the assailants with their Carlo-style submachine guns. The surveillance footage shows an ammunition clip falling out of one gun and the attacker rushing to recover his bullets. The second assailant’s weapon appears to jam, and he throws it to the ground in disgust.
The morning after Nazar Odey’s machine shop was raided, his neighbors expressed surprise, saying he was a quiet, middle-aged family man who was not political.
His mother, Hamda Azazameh, fretted about what would happen to the family. Her son was the sole breadwinner. She said he learned how to operate his lathes and drills during a long apprenticeship in Israel.
Why would he risk so much? The Israeli colonel said, “There’s a lot of money in making guns.”
One of officers said that $500 for a Carlo is a lot of money — especially if somebody sells 10 or 20 guns.
“Maybe it’s for the money; maybe it’s ideological,” the colonel said.
“I don’t care,” he said. “Guns kill.”
Sufian Taha in Azzun and Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.