As cocaine’s popularity rises, Israel’s significance in global drug trade grows

As cocaine’s popularity rises, Israel’s significance in global drug trade grows

Major drug routes passing through the country en route from Africa to Europe cater to white-collar thrill-seekers as drug money continues to finance terrorism

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A woman snorts coke in the toilet of a Jerusalem bar. (illustrative photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)
A woman snorts coke in the toilet of a Jerusalem bar. (illustrative photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Months after the UN’s World Drug Report for 2013 indicated that Israel was located at the crossroads between several drug trafficking routes, Israel has reportedly become a “major hub” in the international cocaine trade — with abuse of the substance increasingly on the rise, especially among white-collar Israelis.

In a Ha’aretz report published Saturday, Israel Anti-Drug Authority rehabilitation unit head Dr. Haim Mal is quoted as saying Israelis have begun to eschew soothing and relaxing drugs and opt for ones that increase alertness, like cocaine.

“Cocaine is a social drug that can be found in nightclubs in Israel’s major cities and among a wide range of users, most of them in the liberal professions,” Mal reportedly said, calling the drug “a social phenomenon that has emerged in Israel as in other countries around the world.”

He warned of the drug’s harmful effects — which, unlike the notorious effects of heroin, damage the soul more than the body, but can still lead to hospitalization.

With more and more Israelis in search of thrills rather than peace of mind, the drug trafficking routes that intersect in Israel and pass through it in transit are finding a growing market in the country. According to a 2009 survey by the Anti-Drug Authority, the amount of cocaine used in Israel doubled between 2005 and 2009, with nearly one percent of Israelis aged 18-40 admitting to having used the drug.

The World Drug Report noted that in 2011, Israel registered an increase in the amount of cocaine seized in the country, possibly en route from Africa to the Balkans and eastern Europe through West Africa and the Levant, particularly Israel, Lebanon and Syria. “A link between this emerging route and the Near and Middle East cannot be excluded,” concluded the report.

In 2012, the US State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) listed Israel as having “a significant domestic demand for illegal drugs,” despite not being a major producer or trafficker of narcotics.

The report also noted an increase in money laundering in Israel and a connection between drug money and “terror financing and human trafficking.” The country’s growing youth and illegal immigrant populations were both singled out as future targets — the youth for drug use, the immigrants for trafficking. Dual citizens were also singled out for possible involvement in drug smuggling and trafficking, due to the advantage conferred by holding two passports.

The report stated that 225 kilograms of cocaine were seized in Israel between January and September 2011, compared to 639 kilograms of marijuana and 671 kilograms of hashish, seized mostly from the Egyptian border — as well as a mere 15 kilograms of heroin.

Crack cocaine was hardly mentioned in the reports, but its use seems to be becoming more prevalent as well. Described by one Israeli university graduate as “the harder stuff,” the freebase form of cocaine, which is usually smoked rather than snorted, is a highly addictive substance.

“It’s something fierce. It’s the harder, faster version of cocaine… Its effects are very short-lived, more intense than cocaine,” the 26-year-old Jerusalem resident told The Times of Israel on Saturday, adding that paraphernalia used to smoke crack cocaine — bongs, for example — could be bought at any corner shop in south Tel Aviv.

Describing the drug as a social phenomenon, not unlike cocaine, he said, “If cocaine is associated with the elites and successful people, in this case it is exactly the opposite – crack cocaine is used by junkies, by all kinds of poor people.”

Whereas cocaine is habitually used in posh nightclub bathrooms, crack cocaine is used in the streets, he said.

“There’s nothing positive about it, you can’t learn anything from it,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s one of the most addictive things in the world.”

In January, three Bolivian citizens were arrested at Ben Gurion International Airport as they tried to smuggle seven kilograms of cocaine in liquid form into the country. The liquid cocaine was apparently to be distilled into powder form for sale on the streets.

An additional two men were later arrested in connection with the same crime, on suspicion that they were operating a drug-trafficking ring in Israel.

Last year, police busted a large-scale cocaine ring in Tel Aviv that delivered the drug disguised as sushi orders.

Drug shipments worth thousands of dollars – sometimes much more – are routinely confiscated on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Egypt.

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