Dichter calls security along southern borders 'dismal'

Despite increased budget, narcotics and women trafficking across Sinai remains a booming business.

Despite a NIS 200 million budget pick-me-up to reinforce security along Israel's problematic Sinai border, women and drugs continue to be smuggled across the desert, where the only resistance on the Israeli side is a simple fence - and occasional spirals of barbed wire. During a Knesset meeting Monday to discuss drug and women trafficking, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter painted this dismal picture of the situation along the country's second-longest border, emphasizing that the police were left to confront the resultant problems after the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) failed to prevent infiltrations. Although the difficulties along the Egyptian border have grabbed headlines after a terrorist infiltrated the border in January and killed three Israelis when he detonated himself in Eilat and a steady stream of Darfur refugees have landed on the Negev's doorstep, police experts emphasized that this was not the only border in need of shoring-up. As part of a rearrangement of troops along the Negev borders, the IDF will in January take over from the current power-sharing deal between the IDF's 80th Division and the Ramon Border Police. The Ramon Unit, designed to work in the desert environment, will be given responsibility for the Arava and the southern border with Jordan from Ein Gedi to Eilat - also, apparently, a tempting border for smugglers. Police estimate that in 2007 they seized between 500,000 and a million "hits" worth of heroin that had been smuggled in through the southern Jordanian and Egyptian borders. Dichter emphasized at the meeting coordinated by MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Nissim Zeev (Shas), that no fence or wall at the border could have the efficacy of improved intelligence regarding smugglers' movements on the Egyptian side of the border. Dichter said that without military intelligence, the police could only begin to operate "too late," after the people or materials had crossed the border. He described the Sinai as a "no-man's land" where the Egyptian army turns a blind eye to smugglers. Crossing the border, Dichter said, has become an organized industry in which 75 percent of those infiltrating enter Israel for work - as trafficked women or otherwise. Would-be infiltrators pay sums as high as $1,500 to smugglers who help them come from as far as Eritrea. According to police data, some 3,000 people cross the border each year.