Eight Israeli Bedouin Arrested for Drug Smuggling Over Egypt Border; Several Charged With Espionage

An Israeli tank driver was killed last month pursuing the suspects who allegedly sabotaged cameras along the Egyptian border

The Nitzana border crossing at the border between Israel and Egypt
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Eight Israeli Bedouin have been arrested — and some are being charged with espionage —for allegedly vandalizing security cameras along the Egyptian border last month in a drug smuggling operation, police and the Shin Bet security service announced on Wednesday.

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An Israel Defense Forces tank driver, Sgt. Eliyahu Drori, was killed in April in an attempt to catch the suspects now under arrest. While pursuing them near the Egyptian border, his tank rolled down a ravine, causing a shell inside the vehicle to ignite. Three other soldiers were injured in the incident.

The eight suspects, residents of the Bedouin community of Bir Hadaj in the northern Negev, were charged in Be’er Sheva District Court; some of them, with espionage.

According to the charge sheet, Ayed al-Hatrasha, 33, a former soldier from the Al-Azameh Bedouin tribe who began smuggling drugs from Egypt after his army service, conspired with Salameh Tuhi, 36, to cut the Bezeq cables that operate the security cameras along the border to make it easier to smuggle large quantities of drugs without being caught.

Tuhi, Hatrasha and three others – Tawfik and Faiz Abu Gardud and Salam Abu Asa – are being charged with espionage because the cameras are used to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israel and cutting the cables was likely to harm state security. The three other suspects charged with smuggling are Suliman Abu Gardud, Swilam Along, and Mohammed Azazma.

Early on the morning of April 14, the smugglers allegedly cut the cables in the communications pit, turning off the cameras along part of the border. According to the charge sheet, the Egyptian smugglers then used a ladder to climb up the border fence and passed over 10 bags of hashish weighing 20 kilograms each.

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When the camera shutdown was noticed, the IDF command in the area sent out extra forces, including tanks, to the border. For reasons still not known, one of the tanks swerved off its planned route and rolled some three meters down a ravine at the Nitzana Stream. At some point the tank rolled over and the impact ignited the shell. Drori was killed and three soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, by inhaling either the smoke from the burning shell or the gas released to extinguish it.

Some of the defendants are charged under Section A of the espionage regulations, under which “Anyone who delivers information and intends to harm the security of the state is liable to 15 years’ imprisonment,” while others are charged with Section B espionage under which “whoever obtains, prepares or possesses information and intended to harm state security is liable to 10 years’ imprisonment.” The prosecution will have to prove that because the cable was disconnected and damaged it harmed state security. Under these sections there is no need to prove that information was given to an enemy.

The joint police-Shin Bet announcement said, “It should be clear that intentional sabotage of IDF infrastructures on the Sinai border constitutes a clear threat to the security of the state and its borders and is therefore being dealt with severely.”