Drug smuggling up sharply along Israel’s southern border

The IDF has foiled 32 cases in the first quarter of 2021 alone, compared to 53 in all of last year.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel New

Drug smuggling attempts are sharply up at the Sinai border in comparison to recent years, but so is the IDF’s success in thwarting the illegal crossings, Israel Hayom reported Tuesday.

While the northern and Gazan borders get most of the press, the most active border for the IDF in 2021 so far has been the Egyptian one. Army data reveal that some 100 smugglings were recorded in the first quarter of the year alone, in comparison to about 300 illegal runs in each of the previous two years.

One-third of the attempts from January to March have been foiled by alert troops. In those 32 cases, 1,400 kilograms of drugs and nine vehicles were seized, with a total value of 40 million shekels.

A 30% success rate at catching offenders may not be considered wonderful, but it is a great improvement over 2020, when the rate stood at about 18%. The IDF saw even 2020 as a successful year as changes it implemented on the ground resulted in quicker response times to breaches at the border.

The smugglers therefore had to reduce the amount of time they spent passing along their packages, so as not to get caught. With each run limited to some five minutes, there was a significant drop in the absolute amount of drugs they managed to get into Israel. Whereas in 2019 the army estimated that 70 tons of drugs, valued at 4 billion shekels, were brought over the border, in 2020 that number was reduced to 33 tons, a fall of 53.3%.

The IDF is constantly trying to improve on its successes, knowing that the criminal organizations behind the smugglers make billions of shekels from the drug-selling business. Col. Elad Shoshan, head of the Paran Brigade, told the Hebrew daily, “The extent [of the smuggling] has hurt Israeli society in recent years far more than the damage Hamas or Hezbollah routinely inflict.”

Shoshan’s brigade is in charge of the border that runs from the southern edge of the Gaza Strip to Eilat. It is made up of two co-ed battalions, Caracal (Wildcat) and Bardelas (Cheetah), which have increasingly honed their skills in fighting the smugglers.

And it is a fight. The use of violence by the drug runners has risen steadily over the last three years, going from 13.3% of the cases in 2019 to 23.3% in 2020, and about 20% so far in 2021. The reason for this is attributed to the upgrade in the IDF’s performance against them.

“Because of our success, we see a rise in the phenomenon that we dub ‘violent smuggling,’” a source from Paran told The Jerusalem Post last month. “The smugglers use live fire in these incidents.”

Although in most cases, they aim at the Egyptian police on their side of the border, the source said, “Our commanders and soldiers are experienced in live-fire incidents more than any other front. Once a week, during a smuggling attempt, they shoot all over, and commanders and combat soldiers here have felt the bullets whistling near their heads.”