IDF forces destroyed the weapons, some of which predated Israel's independence, so that hostile forces would not use their parts to build new weapons
Hundreds of weapons, some of them predating Israeli independence, were discovered last week in the area of the Dead Sea. The weapons – including mortars, explosives, M1 rifles and Sten guns – were detonated in controlled explosions by forces of the IDF Central Command, so as to prevent hostile forces from making new weapons out of their parts.
Head of the Central Command's Protection Desk Maj. Shahar Keller, who oversaw the IDF's handling of the discovered weapons, noted that this was only the third time in recent years that the IDF has carried out this type of activity. He explained that the weapons were uncovered against the backdrop of shifts in the area, such as the shrinking of the Dead Sea and changes in the terrain. He also noted that the site where the weapons were found is considered a minefield and is closed to the general public.
"We found many items at the site, including mortars, artillery, grenades, explosives, mines, and even radio transmitters, compasses, and different weapons," Maj. Keller said. "Our course of action is to detonate the weapons so that people's lives will not be endangered."
The recently discovered weapons are destroyed. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
The hypothesis, Maj. Keller explained, is that these weapons are from various periods. A package of bombs was found at the site with a label indicating that it had been produced in November 1960, and it appears that a Jordanian force discarded it into the water during the Six Day War. Other discoveries show that weapons of the British Army from the period of the British Mandate were also discarded in the area. Also found in the area were additional weapons from various groups and armies, such as M1 rifles and Sten guns, which were used during the Second World War.
“We cleaned the surface of all visible items, and we are planning another detonation for the coming year,” Maj. Keller stated. “There is a significant challenge here. In contrast to the clearing of minefields – where there are organized lists of how many mines because we were the ones that put them there – with clearing of this kind there is no way to know the number of weapons. We depend on the forces of nature, and according to that, increase the frequency of the cleaning."
Maj. Keller noted that this is the only site in Israel in which weaponry and munitions have been uncovered many years after having been discarded. “The munitions are not in a dangerous location, so the goal is to avoid letting them get into hostile hands,” he added. “In the past, items have been stolen from the area and taken for the creation of explosive material, and [we aim] also to avoid a situation in which innocent tourists come across weaponry, even with the likelihood that the munitions will barely function due to long exposure to salt."
The controlled explosion was carried out by a reserve company of graduates of the Yahalom unit, which specializes in bomb disposal. An officer in the Israeli Navy said that the Underwater Missions Unit also takes part in the destruction of weaponry and munitions found in Israel's waters and that they perform operations in the Dead Sea every few years.
In addition to these weapons, the Central Command indicates that it has cleared roughly 3,000 mines in the Jordan Valley in the past year.
A senior official in the Steel Formation said that forces from the Combat Engineering School, in conjunction with the Engineering Company of the Nahal Reconnaissance Battalion, had cleared the mines and that 3,400 dunams (approximately 840 acres) of land in the Jordan Valley was restored to nature and agricultural work. Around 7,000 mines remain in the area, which the Central Command is planning to clear in the coming year.
The official noted that the forces had been extremely successful in clearing mines in the past year and that the number of mines cleared in 2012 was higher than the previous year's figure. Importantly, no mines were located in areas that are open to the public.
Matan Galin contributed to this article.