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Israel says it thwarted Hamas attempt to smuggle weapons from Sinai

Military says top smuggler arrested as he and an accomplice made their way to the Gaza Strip by sea several weeks ago

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

Israeli troops spot a suspected smuggling boat making its way from the Sinai Peninsula toward the Gaza Strip in undated footage, released on June 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops spot a suspected smuggling boat making its way from the Sinai Peninsula toward the Gaza Strip in undated footage, released on June 17, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli security forces thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons to the Hamas terror group’s naval commando unit in the Gaza Strip from the northern Sinai Peninsula through the Mediterranean Sea several weeks ago, the military said Wednesday.

Details on the operation, which occurred “a number of weeks ago,” were barred from publication until Wednesday.

The Israel Defense Forces said the operation was a “joint intelligence and operational effort by Israeli Navy forces and the Shin Bet security service, along with Military Intelligence.”

According to the military, the Shin Bet learned the idenitities of those involved in the smuggling operation and passed the information to the navy.

On an unspecified date, navy soldiers monitoring the Mediterranean Sea “identified the suspected vessel and directed naval forces to it. Following a chase, the vessel was detained and two terrorist operatives on board were taken in for questioning by the Shin Bet,” the IDF said.

One of the two was Mahmoud Baker, whom the military identified as a senior smuggler who was worked with a number of terror groups in the Strip. “His capture represents a significant operational achievement,” the IDF said.

Baker was indicted in Beersheba District Court on June 4.

The name of the second suspected smuggler was not released to the public.

The IDF said that during their interrogation by the Shin Bet, the two men said the weapons they were smuggling were going to Hamas naval commandos.

The military did not comment on what types of weapons were seized.

“In addition, during the interrogation, [they provided] information on Hamas naval smuggling efforts, and information on smugglers, rearmaments and Hamas’s contacts,” the IDF said.

Over the years, Israel has stopped multiple attempts to smuggle military gear and weapons into the Strip, both through the sea and via shipments entering the Palestinian territory.

The IDF said its efforts “are meant to disrupt the rearmament plans of the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip and to strike a significant blow to its military capabilities.”

“The IDF and Shin Bet will continue to thwart terror and smuggling at sea, which is meant to rearm terrorist forces in the Gaza Strip,” the military said.

An IDF missile ship (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
An Israeli navy missile ship (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

In February, the IDF revealed that three months prior it had carried out a similar operation.

In that case, the military said navy soldiers intercepted a boat traveling from the Sinai Peninsula toward Gaza and arrested two operatives on board. During their questioning, they said the weapons were intended for Hamas naval commandos.

Israel has maintained a naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip since the terror group violently took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel says the measure is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons from overseas. Humanitarian aid is transferred to the Palestinian enclaves through Israeli land crossings.

As part of the blockade, fishing boats and other seagoing vessels are required to stay close to the coast.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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