Customs officials made almost three times as many drug seizures at border crossings in the first half of 2013 as during the same period last year.

The increase took place as the Egypt border fence has gone up, and with countries on the northern and southern borders in turmoil, according to figures presented to members of the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse during a visit to Haifa Port on Thursday.

Officials from the Health Ministry and the Public Security Ministry also took part in the visit, to observe the efforts to stop the influx of illegal contraband into the country, including the use of a drive-through X-ray machine for trucks carrying shipping containers from the port to points within Israel and to neighboring countries.

Customs officials told committee chairman Muhammad Barakei that of the 690 seizures in January-June 2013, 500 involved the use of drug-sniffing dogs, five times the number during the first half of 2012.

During a meeting before the tour, Customs Authority representatives and the visiting officials discussed the ways the Sinai fence and the turmoil in the region have driven up drug prices and changed the nature of smuggling drugs into Israel.

Kobi Yahav, head of the Haifa branch of the Customs Authority, mentioned the Beduin family arrested at the Taba border crossing last month trying to smuggle 26 kilos of hashish in their gas tank as an example of how the fence and the drying up of smuggling routes is driving criminal organizations to step up their attempts to get drugs in through the country’s official ports of entry.

Hanan Lev, manager of the X-ray system at Haifa Port, described how every shipping container entering the country is profiled to determine its level of risk, and said that about 10 percent are taken to be scanned. Of these, one out of three holds some sort of illegal cargo.

He wouldn’t go into how the profiling is done, but did say the assessments are done in collaboration with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Mossad and can shift widely based on changing security concerns. Lev said that the Customs Authority also plays a role in keeping out illegal firearms and stopping potential terrorist attacks.

“Every platform used to smuggle drugs can also be used to smuggle weapons and explosives and we’re the last line in stopping these things from reaching Israel,” Lev said. It would only take one (20-footlong/ 6.1-meter-long) shipping container loaded with explosives to cause catastrophic damage to Haifa Port and a massive loss of life, he said.

The system, which cost NIS 55 million, is one of four in use in Israel – the others are deployed at the Ashdod and Eilat ports, and at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Lev said the system can scan as many as 150 trucks in eight hours, and that the efficiency and speed of scanning the containers expedites shipping traffic at the port, making operations more profitable.

As the tour finished, following a demonstration by a drugsniffing dog, Barakei said the anti-drug efforts are one of the few issues that have full support across the political spectrum, and the government must continue the fight on two fronts – fighting smuggling and the drug trade within Israel and increasing education against drug use.

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