Seventeen soldiers and three civilians are under arrest on suspicion of assisting Beduin smuggling rings in bringing narcotics and illicit goods into Israel, police announced on Monday.
Police said the arrests followed two separate but linked lengthy undercover investigations, which had to be cut short due to the deteriorating security situation along the border fence.
Ch.-Supt. Noam Kaiser, head of the Magen anti-narcotics unit that operates along the southern border, said the joint police and Military Police investigation began at the start of the year after police received intelligence on the activities.
“We learned that smugglers were getting aid from inside the army, from soldiers serving along the border. After gathering intelligence, we got to [the] suspects, and made the arrest last week,” Kaiser said. “Last week’s terrorist attack [that killed a Defense Ministry employee building the Sinai fence] was a catalyst for the arrests. We wanted to continue the undercover investigation, but the situation on the border did not allow it.”
The first investigation focused on five soldiers, most of whom are not Beduin, and one civilian, Kaiser said.
The fast pace of the construction of the fence meant that smugglers were increasing efforts to get supplies across into Israel, he added.
“After all of the work we invested, it is a great sense of satisfaction to get to this stage,” he said.
The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court extended the custody of the suspects until Thursday.
Meanwhile, in the second investigation, five noncommissioned officers and seven lower-ranked soldiers were arrested, in one of the the largest drug busts in IDF history, the military released for publication on Monday.
They are mostly Beduin trackers who were arrested over the past two weeks for helping Egyptian and Israeli drug smugglers bypass military ambushes and patrols along the Egyptian border.
Two civilians were also arrested in the operation, conducted together with the Israel Police.
A number of the soldiers were busted by a Military Police undercover agent when they tried to sell him NIS 800,000 worth of drugs, including heroin, hashish, Ecstasy and cocaine.
A Military Police officer told reporters Monday that drug smuggling was on the rise along the border with Egypt as the Defense Ministry nears completion of the construction of a fence there. In addition, the officer said it was possible that terrorists were using the same routes as drug smugglers to infiltrate Israel.
The arrested Beduin trackers served in the IDF Southern Command.
“The trackers would pass on information regarding military deployments along the border to a Beduin in Israel, who then passed it on to a Beduin in Egypt,” the officer said.
The officer said each tracker received several thousand shekels after each successful drug smuggling operation.