ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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IDF, police bust gun-runners on Jordan border amid rise in smuggling efforts

Security forces detain suspected leader of operation following attempt to bring 10 pistols over border last weekend; military says some 300 guns seized so far this year

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Weapons seized by security forces near Neve Ur in northern Israel, after an alleged gun-smuggling over the border with Jordan on August 21, 2022. (Israel Police)
Weapons seized by security forces near Neve Ur in northern Israel, after an alleged gun-smuggling over the border with Jordan on August 21, 2022. (Israel Police)

Israeli security forces busted a gun-smuggling network along the Jordanian border last weekend, arresting its leader and several members and seizing 10 handguns, law enforcement officials said Sunday.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the arrests came amid a “significant rise” in attempts to smuggle weapons and drugs into the country from Jordan and Egypt. Since the beginning of the year, some 300 guns and 2,150 kilograms of various drugs have been seized along the Jordanian and Egyptian borders, the IDF said.

On August 21, soldiers operating surveillance cameras identified a suspect nearing the border from Jordan, close to the northern town of Neve Ur.

Police said the suspect then handed a bag with 10 handguns to the network’s courier along the border. Soldiers and officers dispatched to the scene arrested the courier and seized the weapons.

The network’s leader and another member tasked with securing the smuggling were arrested nearby as they attempted to flee the scene, police said.

The trio, all in their 30s from southern Bedouin towns near Arad, have remained under arrest since. Police prosecutors are expected to file indictments against them in the coming days.

In a separate smuggling attempt on Sunday morning, the IDF said troops and police officers arrested one suspect along the Jordanian border and seized two handguns he had in his possession.

Law enforcement officials have indicated guns smuggled in from Jordan are often sold to Arab Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, for both criminal and terrorist purposes.

The military and police have stepped up efforts to halt smuggling attempts along the Jordanian border in recent months.

The IDF said last weekend’s incident was the 18th smuggling attempt it had thwarted this year, with more than 300 weapons seized. In 2020 and 2021 combined, 300 firearms were seized along the eastern frontier, the IDF said.

Separately, the IDF said it had foiled over 40 attempts to smuggle drugs, mostly hashish and marijuana, from Egypt. The 2,150 kilograms of illicit substances seized were valued at NIS 135 million ($41.5 million).

Troops stand next to drugs seized during a smuggling attempt on the Egypt border, on April 23, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Unlike Israel’s other frontiers — with Egypt, Lebanon and Syria — its border with Jordan is largely open, often without significant fencing, and is relatively unguarded, making it an easy channel for large-scale smuggling.

The IDF said Sunday that it had beefed up defenses on the Jordanian border, as well as increased its surveillance efforts and improved its means of transportation, in order to better foil smuggling attempts.

In the last year, the IDF, police, and Shin Bet security agency have established joint operation rooms enabling them to “produce accurate intelligence in real time and formulate a united and joint operative response to the challenges and smuggling attempts,” the military said.

View of the border between Israel and Jordan, in the Jordan valley, in the West Bank, on June 17, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

Chief Superintendent Ronen Kalfon, commander of the police anti-smuggling Magen unit, said, “This is an ongoing challenge and we will continue to attack the smuggling networks wherever and whenever they go.”

Authorities have increasingly sought to crack down on the unmitigated spread of illegal weapons in the Arab Israeli community, which have been used to carry out a record-breaking number of murders in recent years.

According to the Abraham Initiatives, a group lobbying against violence in the Arab community, last year 125 Arabs were killed in Israel in community violence — an all-time record. Since the beginning of 2022, another 72 have been killed in incidents of violence.

In another incident Sunday, Defense Ministry security guards foiled an attempt to smuggle some 9,000 5.56mm rounds and weapon parts into the West Bank at the Netiv HaLamed-Heh crossing. One suspect was arrested, the ministry said.

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