Planned changes to Jordanian border security raise concerns

The Idan Reservoir, located between Dead Sea, Eilat, looks something like Israel’s version of Grand Canyon but behind rustic skyline lies a growing point of tension between Border Police, IDF.

December 1, 2010 04:10
3 minute read.

Border policeman 311. (photo credit: Yaakov Katz)

The Idan Reservoir, located between the Dead Sea and Eilat, looks something like Israel’s version of the Grand Canyon. Among the vast panoramic vistas of the Arava, the massive pool of water mixed with the looming mountains of Jordan is an impressive sight.

But behind the rustic skyline lies a growing point of tension between the Border Police and the IDF over a simple question: Who will guard Israel’s eastern border with Jordan?

The canyon that runs for several kilometers between Jordan and Israel – home to the reservoir – is also a known smuggling route which is used by drug runners to bring hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, into Israel.

The drugs usually make their way into Israel, are mixed with additional chemicals to increase their volume, and are then smuggled out to Egypt.

“There are a number of vulnerable points along the border,” said Ch.-Supt. Oded Aflalo, commander of a Border Police company stationed along the border with Jordan.

“We had three major seizures in the past year. One smuggler was caught with 50 kg. of heroin, which is worth millions of dollars.”

For the Border Police, though, the border with Jordan is not just about drugs.

While Israelis tend to focus their attention on the southern border with Egypt, which is where African migrants illegally cross into the country, the Jordanian border is becoming a point of concern as global jihad terrorists are believed to be establishing a presence on the other side.

Add to this the decision last year to allow Palestinians to travel freely to the northern part of the Dead Sea and the gradual closure of the West Bank by the security barrier, the Arava is becoming a possible terrorist infiltration point.

“It would take a boat just a few minutes to go from Jordan to the hotels, where there are on average around 14,000 people,” Aflalo said, referring to a boat carrying arms that was intercepted by Border Police in 2006.

For this reason, in April, the Border Police established a new surveillance post in the hotel area next to the Dead Sea, which keeps an eye on the water.

“This could be a target for a terror attack,” Aflalo said.

The Border Police were deployed along the border with Jordan in the middle of the last decade, and in short order began producing unprecedented results, capturing numerous drug smugglers while utilizing special reconnaissance systems, elite units and regular patrols.

“From zero seizures a year we went up to a few dozen,” an intelligence officer who serves in the Arava said.

But that will soon come to an end. Incoming chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, who until a month ago was head of the Southern Command, decided earlier this year to remove the Border Police force from the Arava and replace it with IDF reserve units.

The border policemen will then be dispersed throughout other districts, mainly in the West Bank. The main reason behind the decision is economic, since it is cheaper to pay for reservist battalions than to maintain an entire Border Police brigade.

Border Police sources, however, warn of dire consequences if they are removed from the Arava. One advantage that the Border Police has over the IDF, these sources point out, is that they have the authority to arrest people, something the IDF cannot do.

In addition, the police can collect intelligence inside Israeli Beduin communities – home to the smugglers – and use that intelligence to stop the drug traffic.

“The work along the border requires the ability to operate inside Israel as well, and the IDF cannot do this,” one senior Border Police officer said.

“In addition, how can you compare between reservists who come to the border for three weeks at a time, to police officers who are stationed here for three years straight?”

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