In the year 2022, IDF troops protecting the Sinai border nabbed around NIS 160 million in drugs over the course of around 70 incidents where they captured smugglers.
That would come in at between NIS 2-3 million per seizure operation – until Sunday when the IDF seized NIS million in drugs all in one fell swoop.
The commander of the high profile operation – said to be the largest bust in the Sinai border in many years - IDF Lt. Col. Eyal Levi, told the Jerusalem Post, “Here, we also got the drugs, the smugglers and their equipment. It was a golden operation, where we caught everything at once.”
Giving background on his unit, he said, “I command battalion 727, ‘the shield of Eilat’. Division 80 [which includes battalion 727] is a mix of intelligence collection personnel and defense.”
The IDF Paran brigade extends from Kerem Shalom until Eilat in the West on the Egyptian border and the Yoav brigade extends from Masada until Eilat in the East on the Jordanian border.
Levi said, “This year is historic because an intelligence collection unit never took responsibility before for an entire front. We are now also providing defense protection for all of the Eilat corridor. We are working with multiple organizations, with all of the security forces for Eilat.”
He added, “I also have under my command two additional companies,” totalling 1,000 troops under his command – “that is tremendous power.”
Recounting the bust from February 5 which was announced on Sunday, he said “During this episode, the smuggling was thwarted when the lookout quickly identified the danger and quickly reported it as well as directed the forces in the field about how to encircle the smugglers.”
“The police also assisted in encircling and trailing the smugglers. Our forces had already set a trap for them regarding where they were going. We waited for them [to run out of maneuvering options] for two hours. There are many incidents on that front where we intervene in real time and catch people within only a few minutes,” he said.
Eventually, even a helicopter was involved in the pursuit as well as various special forces units.
Women were the key to success in this operation
A key element of the operation’s success was female combat soldiers.
Levi stated, “There are a large number of lookout personnel watching the international border 24 hours a day and seven days a week, including female combat troops who carry out secret operations in the field. They might wait in ambush for 24 hours. They work in all weather conditions, no matter how extreme.”
“They have developed camouflage capabilities, including special desert items to make themselves blend into the desert landscape, so they can position themselves in a concealed manner,” he noted.
Further, he said, “The female combat soldiers patiently and professionally collected intelligence…They know and have an intimacy with the desert areas they patrol. Along with the female lookout soldier, this is the engine which enables a successful operation.”
Asked about how much he knew about the importance of this particular smuggling operation when his forces launched their efforts to nab the smuggler, he said, “We are ready at all times. We are carrying out intelligence surveillance of the area. We didn’t know the volume of the drugs. But our forces are always ready. It doesn’t matter whether we catch one sack of rugs or many.”
Next, he explained that after the drugs are seized, they are handed over to the police who have a specially trained officer for weighing the drugs to declare their value.
Regarding the value, he admitted, “I was a bit surprised. This was the biggest bust in recent years.”
Addressing why such a large stash of drugs was brought across the border by only one smuggler, he said, “They are always changing tactics with different numbers of people. Sometimes the same smugglers try a few times and we follow them back and forth on the border. Sometimes there are a few cars and I have even seen smuggling groups with 20 smugglers. But we are ready to catch and nab anyone.”
“We have seized hundreds of kilos of drugs. We have caught many smugglers and many of their vehicles – this is part of our defense of the Negev region,” he said.
Also, he complimented a large number of partners in border security, saying, “We also work with Jordan, Egypt and on lots of tourism issues and with tourism officials.”
Higher-ranking IDF officials tend to speak to their Egyptian counterparts in a mix of English and Arabic, while lower ranking IDF officials tend to speak to their counterparts more exclusively in Arabic to work together against the smugglers.
Besides the 70 full-fledged busts, the IDF says it thwarted o ver 500 incidents of attempted smuggling, often simply by deterring the smugglers from crossing all that far into Israel.
In addition, Levi’s troops are charged with preventing a recurring of the August 2011 series of cross-border attacks in southern Israel on Highway 12 near the Egyptian border by a squad of several terrorists split into multiple groups.
He said he had been in command of this area since May 2022.
Levi concluded, “The mix of the lookout and the many complementary forces culminated in this major success.”