Francis Moritz

Israel’s cross-border challenge against drug trafficking

Since 2021, Israel has been faced with the growing challenge of cross-border drug and arms trafficking.

The substantial increase in seizures over the past 18 months seems symmetrical with the different phases of the conflict between Tsahal and Hamas, as well as the increase in settling of scores within the Israeli Arab community. Of just under 500 attacks foiled in the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2022, two-thirds involved the smuggling of small arms. Between March 2021 and April 2023, there were around a hundred attempts to smuggle drugs or weapons across the three countries of Israel, Jordan and Egypt. As always, we must add successful smuggling operations, which figures cannot be accurately estimated. We also note that almost 20% of attempts also come from Lebanon and Syria. Moreover, only the details made public are known. During the Jenin operation, the IDF uncovered hundreds of explosive devices, M16-type weapons, rifles, and quantities of chemicals intended for explosives manufacturing.

The influx of drugs and firearms into Israel is creating a social and security problem. Certain populations, particularly those of Bedouin origin, especially on the Egyptian border, have become arms and drug traffickers, supplying terrorist groups and the mob.

During the current year Tsahal has seized more than 300 weapons and 2.150 kg of drugs.

The causes

the sharp rise in seizures of both weapons and drugs coincides with the pandemic, which has undermined the livelihoods of some residents in border areas where the economy, often already fragile or non-existent, is amplified by the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine. This has considerably heightened tensions among these hard-hit minorities, who have seen in this trafficking an opportunity to create a sustainable income. According to Tsahal, Egyptian and Bedouin smugglers can earn between $25,000 and $35,000 a month. As a result, smuggling networks offer attractive salaries to the unemployed and in most cases, untrained poor.

Given the relative porosity of the crossing points, experts say that the northern border is better protected than the southern one, which has not benefited from the same upgrades. This seems to be confirmed by the regular passage of weapons. Nevertheless, cooperation with neighboring countries is becoming essential in the face of a phenomenon they are unwilling or unable to curb. The recent arrest of a Jordanian diplomat and arms trafficker illustrates, if proof were needed, the urgent need for very close cooperation between countries.

For all these reasons, the authorities acknowledge that the situation will not improve and that cross-border smuggling will remain an ongoing battle.

The challenge

The challenge is twofold.  Cross-border in origin. It addresses the growing demand in the Israeli market. This demand translates into a  twofold fight: a security struggle against a permanent flow of arms and explosives.. The aim is to attack property and people, civilians, and soldiers alike, by terrorists as well as Arab and non-Arab mobsters, as the destination.

In the current situation, the authorities expect cross-border smuggling to remain an ongoing challenge.

If flows are increasing rapidly, it is above all due to consumers demand, which represents the home front and a challenge for the Israeli society. This summary of an article published at the end of 2019 by the Health Department takes into account the situation prevailing at that time, i.e. just before the pandemic.

Drug reduction policy in Israel: what has been achieved and what remains to be done

– Hagit Bonny-Noach Article from October 16, 2019  Israeli Journal of Health Policy Research volume 8 , Article number: 75 ( 2019 ) abstract

The main official drug policy in Israel is the traditional approach of abstinence, probation and punitive measures based on three main pillars: enforcement, treatment and rehabilitation, and prevention. However, under the treatment-pillar, Israel has adopted a number of harm reduction services (decriminalization) , focused primarily on people who use heroin and people who practice drug self-injection. These include methadone medical treatment,

In the current situation, the authorities expect cross-border smuggling to remain an ongoing challenge.

The article points out buprenorphine medical treatment and needle, syringe exchange programs. More specialized departments are aimed primarily at users who frequent Tel Aviv’s largest open drug scene. These include a health clinic, an emergency apartment for drug-addicted sex workers and a “First Step” center. Despite this, the drug reduction approach has remained controversial, stigmatized, and is considered a sub-category for total abstinence treatment in Israel. This article follows the evolution of user reduction interventions in Israel among people who use drugs and highlights the absence of a comprehensive, well-planned and formal national drug reduction policy. In addition, the full article (available) expresses concern about the uncertain future of comprehensive and balanced Israeli drug treatment policies caused by structural changes linked to the abolition of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, the statutory authority and central body in Israel that promotes and coordinates all national policies related to treatment. and reduction, formal national drug harm(decriminalized) reduction policy.

Report conclusion

Although it is difficult to translate global evidence and research findings into action and social change, recommendations are proposed for implementing a comprehensive drug harm reduction policy led by a multidisciplinary group of decision-makers in all areas of drug policy. These focus on the expansion and development of more services for opioid-users treatment and those practicing self-injection, as well as a national effort to reduce the high levels of stigma and discrimination against them, encompassing other common substances and focusing on populations such as teenagers and young adults who engage in other types of substance use such as cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants, and hallucinogens.

Since 2019, the situation seems to be worsening. A report published in March 2023 by the TAUB Center confirms this. As per following summary:

A new Taub Center study authored by Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, Dr. Yannai Kranzler and Oren Miron from March 2023 presents the hard facts of narcotic use for pain and its destructive effects. In 2020, Israel ranked number one worldwide in the consumption of opioids – narcotics for pain, including fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin – and overtook the USA.

Researchers envision immediate steps that should be taken to reduce consumption and overabundance, including safer alternatives for pain management, better accessibility to medical treatment, mental health and social services, and reducing the stigma attached to drug use and abuse.  International studies have shown that outpatient opioid use stems mainly from fentanyl-use by non-elderly, non-malignant(medically treated) patients and in patients of low socio-economic status.

To this very day, the facts seem to confirm that much remains to be done, even if efforts have been made. The measures recommended have not been put into effect. In fact, the steady increase in volumes seized and those arriving on the market are all red lights that highlight the urgency of fighting evil that strikes all categories, especially young people.

About the Author
Former Senior Manager and Director of Companies in major French foreign groups. He has had several professional lives, since the age of 17, which has led him to travel extensively and know in depth many countries, with teh key to the practice of several languages, in contact with populations in Eastern Europe, Germany, Italy, Africa and Asia. He has learned valuable lessons from it, that gives him certain legitimacy and appropriate analysis background.