Israeli troops accused of cross-border drug smugglingBy ROSS DUNN, Herald Correspondent In Jerusalem
Israeli soldiers stationed in southern Lebanon have been smuggling heroin into the Jewish state, Israeli police allege.
The gang comprises dozens of soldiers and some officers in the Israeli Defence Forces, according to Police Chief Superintendent Kobi Bacher, who until recently headed a task force on illegal drugs in the country's northern district.
Police estimate that between one and three tonnes of heroin is being smuggled into Israel from Lebanon each year and that the practice is growing.
''The phenomenon is spreading,'' Superintendent Bacher told the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz . ''This is widespread.''
He said information had been passed on to senior Israeli army officers but, for reasons not made public, they had so far decided not to take any action.
''I have spoken personally with brigade commanders,'' he said. ''I gave them the information but they said they do not have the tools to deal with the problem.''
Superintendent Bacher said the soldiers involved were mainly acting as couriers, carrying illegal drugs from dealers in Lebanon to dealers in Israel.
He said at least one senior officer with the rank of major was involved in the drug running.
The Lebanese and Israeli drug dealers came to know each other in military outposts shared by the Israeli army and their Lebanese allies in the Southern Lebanese Army, he said.
The dealers also came into contact with each other at border crossings and during those times when Lebanese civilians brought supplies to the outposts.
''Those among the soldiers and officers dealing in drugs make sure that during their drug activities, the area is clear of [other] soldiers and police so that the transfers can be conducted in safety,'' Superintendent Bacher said.
He also said in recent months there had been an increase in the number of attempts to smuggle drugs across the Jordanian border.
Superintendent Bacher said this activity had intensified following the announcement earlier this year by the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak, of plans to withdraw all Israeli troops from southern Lebanon by July next year.
''The dealers know hard times are ahead when Israel withdraws from Lebanon,'' he said.
There has been only a terse statement from the Israeli Defence Forces in response to the accusations.
An IDF spokesman said the military police gathered intelligence on such matters.
''When such information or evidence accumulates, an investigation is launched,''
the spokesman said. ''At the moment, no such investigation is ongoing.''