Israel foiled 1,226 smuggling attempts at Gaza crossing last year
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Israel foiled 1,226 smuggling attempts at Gaza crossing last year

Defense Ministry notes record number of trucks bringing goods to the Strip, Palestinians entering Israel through checkpoints

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

In 2016, Israeli security personnel prevented 1,226 attempts to smuggle illicit goods like drones and scuba gear into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing, a significant increase over the previous year, the Defense Ministry announced Sunday.

On average, nearly 500 trucks entered the Strip loaded with goods each day in 2016, a 13 percent increase from 2015, according to the ministry.

In order to prevent the production of weapons and the digging of so-called terror tunnels, Israel’s Coordinator for the Government’s Actions in the Territories (COGAT) maintains a strict list of what goods may not be on those trucks.

For instance, certain chemical compounds, gas tanks and drilling equipment are not allowed into Gaza at all. But also some “dual purpose” materials, like electrical cables and cameras, which can be used for either benign or nefarious ends, are heavily regulated, if not outright forbidden, by Israel.

Illustration. Defense Ministry contractors monitor the transfer of supplies and goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on July 19, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Illustration. Defense Ministry contractors monitor the transfer of supplies and goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on July 19, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

To circumvent those restrictions, smugglers attempt to bring illicit items into Gaza hidden inside or among permitted goods.

Earlier this month, for instance, the Shin Bet security service busted an alleged smuggling ring that was bringing contraband into Gaza hidden inside television sets and refrigerators.

A smuggled shipment of commando knives intercepted by Israeli officials at the Kerem Shalom Border Crossing between Israel and Gaza on August 9, 2016 (Defense Ministry Crossing Authority)
A smuggled shipment of commando knives intercepted by Israeli officials at the Kerem Shalom Border Crossing between Israel and Gaza on August 9, 2016 (Defense Ministry Crossing Authority)

Over the past year, members of the Defense Ministry’s Crossing Authority, working alongside agents from the Shin Bet security service, foiled 1,225 other attempts to smuggle model airplanes, commando knives, truck motors, diving gear and other forbidden materials into the beleaguered coastal enclave.

“The Defense Ministry’s bitter war against smugglers has demonstrably slowed the buildup of terrorist forces in Gaza,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Kamil Abu Rokon, head of the Crossing Authority, said in a statement.

It was a 66 percent increase over 2015, when some 740 smuggling attempts were prevented through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, the Defense Ministry said.

The crossing is the main avenue for bringing goods into Gaza, along with Egypt’s Rafah Crossing, which is often closed, and illegal smuggling, either through tunnels or by sea.

Kerem Shalom crossing seen closed from the Gazan side in the southern Gaza Strip, June 7, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)
Kerem Shalom crossing seen closed from the Gazan side in the southern Gaza Strip, June 7, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

The Erez Crossing is used predominantly for people to enter and exit Gaza, though when necessary it too is used to transfer goods.

Abu Rokon credited the increase to new technology and scanning protocols at the crossing.

“In the past few months, we have been using a merchandise scanner at [the Kerem Shalom Crossing], which is one of the most advanced in the world, and we have added technologies and new checking procedures that aid us in our daily fight against smugglers,” he said.

The Crossing Authority is responsible not only for Kerem Shalom and Erez, but also for many of the checkpoints into and out of the West Bank.

On that front as well, the authority noted some record numbers for 2016.

A still image taken from an April 15, 2016 Channel 2 report on the Qalandiya checkpoint, which highlighted the difficulties Palestinian workers face crossing into Israel from the West Bank. (screen capture: Channel 2)
A still image taken from an April 15, 2016 Channel 2 report on the Qalandiya checkpoint, which highlighted the difficulties Palestinian workers face crossing into Israel from the West Bank. (screen capture: Channel 2)

The past year also saw a record number of Palestinian pedestrians crossing into Israel through Defense Ministry checkpoints: 13 million.

It was an increase of more than 1.5 million from the year before, and more than 4 million over 2014.

October 2016 was the Crossing Authority’s busiest month, with approximately 55,000 Palestinians passing through its checkpoints each day, the Defense Ministry said.

Israeli politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have called for renovations and improvements for West Bank checkpoints, which are often overcrowded and slow.

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