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2 border guards lightly hurt by friendly fire while trying to thwart drug-smuggling

Security forces respond to 9 smuggling attempts in ‘one of the most active nights on the Egyptian border in recent memory’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Around 100 kilograms of drugs that were intercepted during a smuggling attempt from Egypt, January 8, 2022 (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Around 100 kilograms of drugs that were intercepted during a smuggling attempt from Egypt, January 8, 2022 (Israel Defense Forces)

Two Border Police officers were lightly wounded after they were mistakenly identified by soldiers as drug-runners in a firefight during a massive overnight smuggling operation on the Egyptian border, the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday.

According to an IDF spokesperson, there were at least nine smuggling attempts along the frontier overnight, making it “one of the most active nights on the Egyptian border in recent memory.”

On a sometimes nightly basis, Egyptian smugglers attempt to pass contraband over the border — mostly marijuana from grow houses in the Sinai Peninsula, but sometimes harder drugs like heroin — to Israelis, who collect the packages and sell the drugs in Israel.

The IDF and Israel Police seized some 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of drugs, worth an estimated NIS 8 million ($2.5 million), over the course of the night, one of the largest busts in at least the past year, the military said. No arrests were made, however.

Earlier this month, the IDF seized some 100 kilograms of drugs that had been thrown over the border from Egypt, and in December, soldiers captured 120 kilograms of drugs, according to the IDF.

One of the smuggling attempts, the one in which the border guards was injured was a “violent one,” in which smugglers on the Egyptian side of the border drove up to the security fence in armored vehicles, with machine guns on top, and opened fire “massively” into Israeli territory, the IDF spokesperson said.

The machine gun fire was not initially directed at Israeli troops but was instead meant to deter Israeli forces from approaching the area, she noted.

Soldiers from the Caracal Battalion guard the Egyptian border in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

A team from the Caracal Battalion, which guards the Egyptian border, responded to the attack and returned fire. A Border Police vehicle with the two officers inside was also nearby and approached the fence from the Israeli side.

During the firefight, the Caracal soldiers apparently believed that the Border Police vehicle was a truck being used by the Israeli smugglers to collect the packages of drugs, and opened fire at the tires, the IDF spokesperson said.

The two officers were lightly wounded by the gunfire and were taken to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center for treatment, the military said.

“The incident will be investigated,” the IDF said.

The case of friendly fire came after a deadly incident earlier this month, in which two officers from the elite Egoz unit were shot dead by a fellow officer in another case of mistaken identity.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have vowed to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.

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