In ‘unprecedented’ bust, IDF, police seize $14m worth of drugs on Egypt border

Forces confiscate 92kg of heroin and cocaine, 28kg of hashish after Bedouin Israeli man crashes ATV during pursuit in Negev desert

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

Heroin, cocaine and hashish seized during a smuggling attempt on the Egypt border, February 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Heroin, cocaine and hashish seized during a smuggling attempt on the Egypt border, February 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces foiled an attempt to smuggle NIS 50 million ($14 million) worth of drugs into Israel from Egypt earlier this month, the military and police said Sunday, calling the bust “unprecedented” in scale.

According to the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, on February 5, soldiers operating surveillance cameras spotted a suspected drug courier driving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) close to the southern part of the border fence with Egypt.

Troops and officers dispatched to the scene chased the man, who crashed the ATV near the cliffs of the Ramon crater, police said.

The suspected courier, a Bedouin Israeli man from the Negev Desert in his 30s, was detained by the forces, who found 120 kilograms (some 264 pounds) of drugs in the ATV.

The drugs included 92 kilograms (nearly 203 pounds) of heroin and cocaine, as well as 28 kilograms (nearly 62 pounds) of hashish, police said.

The chief of the Negev precinct, Assistant Commissioner Nahshon Nagler, said the operation would lead to “harsh economic damage” to criminal organizations across the country, especially in the south.

A crashed ATV involved in a drug smuggling attempt on the border with Egypt, February 5, 2023. (Israel Police)

Israel says Egyptian smugglers operate by tossing contraband over the border to Israelis, who then sell the drugs in Israel. The smugglers mostly traffic marijuana and hashish from grow houses in the Sinai Peninsula, but sometimes harder drugs like cocaine and heroin are smuggled in as well.

The army said that in 2022, around 450 smuggling attempts were “disrupted” by the army — meaning soldiers were dispatched to the scene, causing the smugglers to back away — and another 75 were fully foiled, with the drugs, and sometimes suspects, captured and handed over to police.

The military assessed that some 125 smuggling attempts on the Egyptian border last year were successful, however. The IDF said the total value of some 3,000 kilograms (6,613 pounds) of drugs seized on the border in 2022 was around NIS 135 million ($40 million).

Though the IDF is tasked with preventing smuggling along the Israeli-Egyptian border, the military typically strives to avoid direct confrontations with Israeli drug smugglers, leaving those to the police.

In a violent incident in December 2022, a Bedouin Israeli man was shot dead by soldiers during an alleged attempt to smuggle drugs into the country from Egypt.

The IDF says many smuggling attempts on the border with Egypt are violent, with suspects opening fire at both Israeli and Egyptian troops. Several deadly encounters between Israeli troops and drug smugglers occurred in 2021.

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