Analysis: The war between Israel and international arms smugglers

Sinai PeninsulaBy IAN ALLEN |
The interception earlier this week of a civilian cargo vessel in the southern Red Sea by Israeli commandos has brought to light the ongoing war between weapons smugglers and the Israeli state. The vessel, named Klos-C, was seized by Israeli forces in international waters, over 1,000 miles away from Israel’s coast. Few observers were surprised by the location of the seizure, which took place in the waters between Eritrea and Sudan. Israeli security planners consider the East African country as a major link in the complex smuggling network that supplies goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Tel Aviv has long asserted that the smuggled weapons, which usually originate from Iran or Syria, are secretly carried from Port Sudan into Egypt before eventually ending up across the border into the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by militant group Hamas.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the October 2012 Israeli air attack on the outskirts of Sudanese capital Khartoum, which destroyed an alleged illicit weapons warehouse. In May of 2012, a missile attack in Port Sudan, which was also linked to Israel, killed Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, an eminent member of the Red Sea’s Ababda Bedouin tribe, whose members have a long history of smuggling weapons and goods to and from Sudan.

The ongoing war between Israel and the weapons smugglers is multifaceted and extends from the Red Sea to Cyprus and from the Sinai to Syria. Egypt, which has traditionally been a popular smuggling route into Gaza, has recently tightened security around the Gaza Strip, as the new military government in Cairo is actively opposed to Hamas. But the turmoil in Egypt has intensified the disorder in the Sinai Peninsula, a lawless place where Bedouin tribes have teamed up with organized smuggling groups to transport goods and weapons into the Palestinian territories. The Egyptian military is too preoccupied with the country’s internal political instability to concern itself with Sinai’s smuggling networks; the latter have repeatedly attracted the attention of Israel’s covert-action agency Mossad.

But there is little doubt that the primary hotbed of smuggling activity affecting Israel’s security is centered on the Red Sea. In a recent article, the BBC describes the Red Sea as “the cockpit for a clandestine battle going on between Palestinian weapons smugglers and the Israeli military”. Israeli intelligence agencies closely monitor Red Sea traffic. However, as intelNews has noted before, the continuing unrest in North Africa and the Levant has prompted a steep rise in smuggling activity across the Mediterranean. A 2013 report on the subject described the surge in smuggling activity in the region as “near-unprecedented”. For every shipment Israeli commandos manage to stop in international waters, many more find their destination. The war between the Israeli state and weapons smugglers in the eastern Mediterranean is a regional manifestation of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have much to gain from the rising instability in the region. The smugglers, however, are thriving. For them, the growing instability in the region offers a highly promising future.

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