Mobile device smuggling is a serious security problem

It is difficult to measure the serious damage such actions have caused to Israel’s security and intelligence gathering capabilities.

December 29, 2016 20:51
3 minute read.
Smart phone

Close up of a man using mobile smart phone. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The recent case in which MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) was caught smuggling mobile devices to Palestinian security prisoners doing time in Israeli prisons was just one of many phone smuggling incidents, but it was the first time the culprit was a member of Knesset.

For example, in January 2010, following an undercover investigation, a Prisons Service officer was caught and arrested for smuggling dozens of mobile devices to security prisoners at Ketziot Prison. And just last year, a huge cellphone smuggling operation at Ramon Prison was thwarted, when an Islamic Jihad security prisoner handed over a bribe to prison guards. In another case, the Prisons Service uncovered a plan to smuggle dozens of mobile devices into Beersheba Prison via a family member of a prisoner who was being threatened.

The list goes on and on.

The devices being smuggled into Israeli prisons are of course not intended for personal use, or to keep in touch with concerned family members. Rather, they serve as an essential tool for terrorist organizations and as the key to organizing terrorist activity, transferring intel from experts and commanders in prisons to terrorists on the outside, and giving instructions from leaders stuck in prison for carrying out terrorist attacks.

In 2013, the Beersheba District Court convicted a security prisoner of trying to smuggle 27 mobile devices into Nafha Prison. The court decision reads as follows: “The technology available today through advanced mobile devices gives prisoners extensive technological capabilities and contact with individuals outside the prison. Since the beginning of 2010, Hamas activists who are incarcerated in Israeli prisons have been making increased efforts to organize terrorist attacks through the use of illegal mobile devices that are smuggled into prisons. This widespread and unprecedented phenomenon has made it possible for prisoners to keep in touch with terrorist organization headquarters outside of the prison.”

According to the court, “The presence of cellphones within prison walls grants security prisoners the capabilities necessary to direct serious terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, including abductions and making contact with terrorist cells in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and contacts overseas, as well as communicating with other prisoners.”

Over the years, terrorist organizations have invested tens of millions of shekels in the purchase and smuggling of sophisticated mobile devices to security prisoners. One reason these devices cost so much is that terrorists only purchase anonymous devices from shady dealers, which are more expensive, and then on top of that smugglers (guards or prisoners’ family members) need to be compensated. When all of these costs are added up – purchase, delivery, transfer, smuggling – the cost to terrorist organizations reaches more than NIS 70,000 or NIS 80,000 per device. Unfortunately, when a potential smuggler is offered NIS 20,000 or more to smuggle a device, the temptation to become involved is quite great.

It is difficult to measure the serious damage such actions have caused to Israel’s security and intelligence gathering capabilities.

There is no way to argue with the fact that Israel’s security has been compromised by the ability of prisoners to maintain direct and ongoing contact with comrades outside the prison walls. This communication enables the continuation of terrorist activity, and the use of the skills and experience of seasoned terrorists.

For example, in a trial that was held in January 2014, an Arab woman named Dunya Wached was convicted of smuggling mobile devices. She was convicted of offenses that included conspiracy to commit a crime, and aiding in the purchase and transfer of property for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist attack. As a result, Wached was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

There is no doubt that MK Ghattas knew all of this before he decided to smuggle the mobile devices, which increases the seriousness of his actions. It is important to understand that the act of catching Ghattas red-handed was not random or sudden. He was caught following an extensive investigation and period of intelligence collection and documentation. If indeed it is proven that Ghattas is guilty of smuggling mobile devices, he should be removed from his position immediately and prosecuted to the full extent of the law as a criminal, and serve time in prison as any other security prisoner would.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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