Improvised Replica Firearms from the West Bank

In my previous article, we examined the Palestinian homemade Carlo submachine gun in use in the West Bank.

This article will examine the design and use of improvised firearms among Palestinians in the West Bank, that are otherwise known as “Replica” Carlo’s due to their similarity in appearance to the M4s and M16 rifles in use throughout Isreal that the designs are replicating. The majority of these weapons are 9x19mm NATO, fully automatic only, magazine fed, open bolt designs that are improvised from underground manufacturers that use machinery and materials purchased on the black market or outright stolen. Due to the variance in production and origins, there is no set standard of appearance for these weapons. Rather there is a general consensus that the appearance is identical to an M4 or M16 from afar, but that there are significant differences between individual models.

Motives for Producing Replicas and the Cultural Context

Availability

The prime reason to manufacture the Carlo is to resemble as closely as possible an M-16 or M-4 is the availability of furniture and magazines in Israel and the West Bank. Both guns were and still are a major part of the Israeli armament, used by the IDF, police, civil guard etc… Because of this availability of parts, Armalite based designs are favored when theft becomes an option.

From a manufacturing point of view, it makes sense to design your gun to match the existing furniture and magazines already available than to manufacture them along with the gun.

Status and Prestige

Guns have a significant role in the Arab tradition, centuries of existence in lawless regions made it essential to own weapons for self-defense and as a deterrence against other tribes who were also armed themselves with whatever they could get their hands on.

Although civilian gun ownership is largely restricted and banned by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority many Arab families in the West Bank and Israel are determined to keep their arsenals and enlarge them as much as possible.

Alongside the practicality of owning a gun the guns are symbols of status and wealth. A family or an individual that can afford high-end weapons rather than a homemade one enjoy prestige over those who compromise with the local workshop products.

Acquiring a real military grade firearm might be expensive and the common garden variety Carlos are too widespread. The Carlo replicas are a way to bridge that gap, have a more expensive and awe-inducing gun without the cost of acquiring the M4 that the replica is based on.

Imitating Popular Palestinian Figures

Many in the Arab population view the terror organizations and terrorists as freedom fighters and role models, naturally, there are those who want to imitate these heroes and want to have their guns be as identical to those who they admire. If the genuine guns and ammo are out of reach then the replicas become the alternative, relatively cheap and available supplies of ammunition to practice and show off. It is then easy to understand why some workshops making the replicas make great efforts to produce almost identical copies.

Infiltration

It has been speculated that the M4 replicas could be used for terror attacks against Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers. Due to the apparent shape of the replicas being similar to the M16 service rifle used by the IDF. This will confuse soldiers and security guards, mistaking the identity of terrorists as IDF soldiers, making them hesitate to shoot.

A fair theory, however, none of the individuals caught with these replicas has ever been caught with an IDF uniform to match the gun. Currently, the records show that after numerous attacks done by Carlo wielding terrorists none were carrying any replicas. All of the photos released by IDF and police spokesmen show a regular Carlos.

Stolen or Lost Weapons and Magazines

An obvious source for both guns and their magazines are various stocks of small arms already existing in Israel. IDF, police, border guards, private security, armed civilians and many other groups are armed with M16s and M4s. This creates an abundance of stock from which guns and magazines can be acquired, by searching IDF training areas or breaking into a police officer’s home for example.

Commercial market

Several Israeli companies, such as FAB and CAA, known in the U.S. commercial gun market for their products, are also producing and selling M16 and M4 furniture in Israel. Many IDF soldiers individually choose to upgrade their weapons at their own expense. Such equipment is sold regularly and without any background checks and it stands to reason that some of the replicas are using such legally purchased furniture.

Paintball and Airsoft Replicas

There were some on Israeli gun web forums who speculate that paintball and airsoft replicas could be the source for the Carlos replicas’ receivers.

Indeed such guns could be cannibalized to provide the Carlo replica receivers.

The 9x19mm NATO ammunition produces less pressure than intermedium cartridges do so the light structure of the paintball and airsoft might withstand the additional pressure.

However, thought technical plausible, photos taken of captured Carlos or those surface in the Arab social media don’t indicate that paintball and airsoft are used.

The replicas’ ‘receivers’ all appear to be workshop made with all the typical welding seams, rivets and out of proportions dimensions.

Embedded Magazine

Curious readers might wonder how open bolt 9x19mm submachine guns are fed with 5.56x45mm NATO STANAG magazines.

The answer is simple, the craftsmen making the guns mimic the real guns embed pistol or Uzi 9x19mm magazine inside the real STANG magazines.

Similar to Matryoshka dolls, these magazines are inside of the weapon with few exterior modifications to the STANG magazine.

Those rivets hold the inner magazine in place.

Outside of the weapon the inner magazine is revealed protruding out of the STANAG housing magazine.

Such arrangement of small caliber magazine housed inside bigger caliber magazine shell is unusual but not unique, for example, the Philippines Armscor M16 22 is a 22LR semi-auto rifle dressed as an M16A1 with a matching STANAG size magazines containing 22LR magazines inside

Yoel is an Israeli engineer, IDF veteran, and small arms enthusiast. He is interested in small arms from both a cultural and engineering aspect. He is the chief contributor to Future War Stories, a military science fiction blog, for which he writes articles about weapons in science fiction.

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