U.N. Soldiers Caught Red-Handed Smuggling Cigarettes Into Israel

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(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Customs agents at Israel’s northern border foiled a major smuggling operation, confiscating 20,000 packets of cigarettes that were being smuggled from Lebanon into Israel. The smugglers – United Nations peacekeeping force soldiers, who were attempting to bring their loot into Israel in U.N. vehicles.

The incident occurred Monday morning at the Rosh Hanikra crossing from Lebanon into Israel. The crossing is used by members of U.N., the U.N.’s peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, and the passage of soldiers in either direction is common. On Monday, four U.N. vehicles, each driven by a U.N. member, attempted to enter Israel. Customs agents asked one of the soldiers to open the trunk of his vehicle, but he refused, saying that the trunk could not be opened.

Their suspicions raised, customs officials insisted on opening the trunk, and after some back and forth over the authority of the agents to demand an inspection, the agents got their way – and discovered the cigarettes spread among the four vehicles. In one of the vehicles, a van, the smugglers had hidden the cigarettes inside side panels of the vehicle.

The agents reported the incident to U.N. headquarters, which they said was “very cooperative.” The four soldiers were arrested and will be investigated by U.N. officials for their activities. The cigarettes, worth some NIS 500,000, were confiscated. Israeli officials have opened an investigation into where and how the cigarettes were to be sold, and whether the smugglers or associates have tried to do this before.