Israeli and Egyptian security forces engaged in a “massive” gun battle with drug-runners during a large-scale smuggling attempt over the Sinai border fence late Sunday night, which apparently resulted in the death of one suspect, a Border Police official said Monday.
Officers seized dozens of kilograms of marijuana and hashish — the plant’s processed resin — in the raid, in the northern Negev desert, the police said.
The Border Police’s southern intelligence unit had received information about the planned smuggling attempt, and officers were waiting to ambush the culprits when they arrived, a Border Police spokesperson said.
According to a police statement, late Sunday night, some 30 smugglers in the Sinai Peninsula climbed the Egyptian side of the border fence with ladders and began throwing bundles of drugs over to their Israeli counterparts, who loaded the bags into their cars.
At that stage, the Israeli troops sprang into action to “make arrests and thwart the smuggling,” police said.
“During this operation, a massive wave of gunshots were fired at the Border Police forces from a number of locations on the Egyptian side of the border,” police said.
According to police, the “massive” gunfire came from a number of high-caliber machine gun positions that the smugglers had set up across the border.
The Israeli troops fired back at the attackers, until eventually Egyptian police officers arrived at the scene and joined in the gun battle, sending the smugglers scrambling on both sides of the border.
The Israeli smugglers fled the scene, but Border Police officers recovered one of their cars, which was filled with dozens of kilograms of drugs, police said.
A short while later, soldiers found a man at the entrance to the nearby Tzeelim army base in southern Israel who had sustained a gunshot wound. Medics pronounced him dead.
According to police, the man appeared to be one of the Israeli smugglers, who was hit in the crossfire and taken from the scene by his comrades.
“Evidence indicates that the suspects appears to have been shot and wounded by the Egyptian smugglers, who fired indiscriminately,” the police said.
No Israeli border guards were injured in the exchange.
Though this smuggling attempt and subsequent shootout were out of the ordinary in terms of scale, the Israeli-Egyptian border sees regular, less dramatic criminal activity, despite a reinforced steel fence along the border that Israel completed in December 2013.
But while vast quantities of marijuana and other drugs can no longer make it across the border, some intrepid entrepreneurs from Sinai still smuggle smaller amounts into Israel.
On an almost nightly basis, Egyptian drug-runners, most of them Bedouin, come to the 125-mile (200-kilometer) border fence to toss bags of contraband to their Israeli counterparts, who collect the goods in ATVs — or, on a big night, in trucks — and bring them back for distribution, soldiers serving on the border told The Times of Israel last year.
A video released on Arab media in late July shows the ease with which this can be accomplished.
While most of these smugglers do not have ties to terror groups, they have routinely opened fire indiscriminately when confronted by Israeli troops, who are forced to take cover while the smugglers make their escape.
In October 2014, a military patrol, commanded by Cpt. Or Ben-Yehuda, came under fire from both machine guns and an anti-tank missile in an attack later determined by the IDF to have been carried out by drug smugglers.
Ben-Yehuda, along with another soldier, were wounded in the attack. Three of the assailants were killed.