Israel is worried that the Jordan border could be a conduit for arms smuggling

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  September 19, 2023

Israel is going to build another fence, this time along the border with Jordan. Until it is completed, there will be reports about arms smuggling across the border into the occupied West Bank. The occupation security forces are trying to stop the smuggling, while illegal Jewish settlers complain that they are in harm’s way and left exposed to security breaches.

The price of guns and ammunition in the West Bank has apparently risen, even as there are still unguarded gaps in border security exploited by the smugglers. Israel is clearly failing to stop them.

Settlers’ leaders in the Jordan Valley have called for tougher penalties for smugglers in an attempt to curb what they see as a very dangerous phenomenon. Smuggled weapons, after all, are used in resistance attacks against Israelis.

A number of tactical responses have been presented to tackle the issue of arms smuggling, including what’s called the 2021 “Border Swing” project. This was intended to reinforce the borders with Jordan and Egypt, eliminate weapons smuggling, strengthen military vehicles, and improve border defence and means of transportation. A joint office was established by the various army and security agencies in Central Command, in cooperation with the police, to limit smuggling activities.

Arms smuggling activities are concentrated in the Jordan Valley, rather than the southern part of Jordan, the Dead Sea, areas around Aqaba and Eilat, or Jewish settlements located on the border. What are now regarded as routine smuggling activities don’t all get reported because they are thwarted by the security services. This has prompted an increase in accusations by settlers that Israel is abandoning them.

In the past few months dozens of smugglers have infiltrated supposedly closed and mined military areas near Dead Sea factories, as they are common routes for smuggling explosive devices and various types of weapons across the border from Jordan. Evidence shows that smugglers are recruited by armed activists in Palestinian resistance movements.

The supply of weapons to resistance groups in the occupied West Bank poses serious difficulties to the Israeli security services. Israeli reports suggest that weapons have been stockpiled, and there has been an increase in the number of resistance attacks. The details of those involved in arms smuggling are kept secret, but it is no secret that Palestinian resistance groups and their network of regional contacts are trying to send more weapons into the occupied territories, which will increase the threat to Israel on different fronts.

According to Israeli military officials, the weapons and ammunition seized from smugglers are only the tip of the iceberg. They’re talking about thousands of weapons, and every night. From Jordanian arms dealer to end user can take as little as 48 hours.

Resistance groups understand the effectiveness of smuggling weapons in this way and no longer need a separate smuggling infrastructure. Even Hamas asks arms dealers to provide it with weapons; all it has to do is give them money, and they get the arms from scattered, non-central networks. Israel alleges that smugglers may stay in the desert for days and perhaps even weeks. If something does not feel right, the smugglers can sit at the same point for days, surviving on very little in the shadows.

It is a risky but lucrative business. A pistol which costs $3,000 in Jordan, for example, might be sold in the West Bank for $12,000, and inside Israel for $16,000. An M16 rifle can be bought in Jordan for $10,000 before being sold in Jenin for $20,000, and in Israel for $30,000.

The region is being flooded with weapons and ammunition. It is a problem that cannot be solved easily or overnight.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza