IDF Keeps Bedouin Trackers in Dark About Egypt Border Ops

Troops say told not to divulge operational details to trackers, out of fear they may inform smugglers.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers serving at the Israel-Egypt border said they received unofficial instructions in recent months to withhold information from Bedouin trackers on their units' special operations, for fear the trackers could be cooperating with smugglers.

"We never received official instructions in the form of an order," said a reserve soldier who completed patrol duty on the border several weeks ago, "but they told us quietly not to tell the trackers that we would be setting ambushes."

One reserve platoon commander said, "At the drill we ran at Tze'elim [training base] they said although we're doing routine patrols along the fence with a Bedouin tracker in the jeep, anytime we do something that isn't routine, like an ambush or other initiated operation, the tracker can't know about it, since some of them cooperate with drug and prostitute smugglers, and if [the smugglers] know we're in the area at a certain time, we won't catch a single one."

Soldiers in a regular army combat unit recently deployed at the border said they had received similar instructions, and in some instances refrained from listing ambushes on the company's operations board. None of the soldiers, however, told of receiving explicit orders to withhold information from trackers.

Sources in the police and IDF criminal investigation division testified in the past to the Knesset's committee on drug abuse about the problem of cooperation between IDF trackers and smugglers along the Egyptian and Lebanese borders, and several trackers have been detained on suspicion of such activity.

In the past year the IDF has seen a dramatic rise in enlistment among Bedouin youth, due to difficult economic conditions within the community and the belief of many of its members that army service is the most effective way to integrate into mainstream Israeli society.

Officers in the IDF's desert reconnaissance brigade, where many of the Bedouin recruits serve, said, "We've never come across an instance of split loyalties among Bedouin soldiers - that it's preferable to assist Bedouin smugglers instead of fulfilling duties as soldiers."

The IDF Spokesman's Office said no information was withheld from one sector to another, but that information may be compartmentalized due to operational considerations.