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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Smugglers of the Middle East

The borders of the Middle East and the Sahara have always been an excellent breeding ground for smuggling. Dozens of times, crossing from one country to another, I have seen myself how cigarettes, alcohol or even toilet paper was carried mixed among the luggage of tourists and backpackers.

Conflicts in the region have made these borders even more porous. Many people are benefiting from the lack of control on either side of the border to increase smuggling of all kinds of goods, objects or even people.

In the Sahara, the growing influence of al-Qaeda (notable for using the drug trade to finance itself) has increased smuggling in places like Algeria and Mali. People who smuggled cigarettes before have been attracted by the easy money in drugs and now carry cocaine. It comes from South America to Africa through the parallel 10 (Highway 10) and across the desert into Europe.

Further east, the story is somehow similar, but the trade changes. According to an AP report for Al Jazeera, weapons, humanitarian aid, including fuel, and medicine enter Syria via Turkey on a daily basis. In the other direction go vegetables, flour, tea, iron and wood from houses destroyed by missile and rocket attacks and even live animals such as cows or sheeps.

The long-time porous border between Lebanon and Syria is more of the same. For the Lebanese, the traditional tobacco smuggling has given way to a far more deadly trade: weapons. The UN, through its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has expressed concern that this smuggling will end destabilizing Lebanon itself.

One of the reasons for the American doubts to support the rebels is that their weapons could end up in the hands of Islamists. There are also questions raised about what might happen to the chemical weapons arsenal if the Assad regime is toppled.

The matter concerns enough to Israel, which fears that orphaned Assad’s weapons will end up as part of a service arsenal for the highest bidder. A few weeks ago Israeli warplanes bombed an alleged Syrian arms shipment to Hezbollah, in Syrian soil but from Lebanese airspace.

Tunnel in Gaza
The counterpart to the benefit of a few for smuggling is that commodities’ prices have skyrocketed for the rest, even for basic items. While Syrian fuel and flour cross the border to make a profit in Turkey, Aleppo bakeries can not make bread.

The same goes for other food like tomatoes, which have seen their price more than doubled since the war began. Also sheperds try to get rid of their herds before a bomb wills kill the animals. This explains the smuggling of live animals, but also the exorbitant price of meat inside Syria.

But if there is a Middle Eastern place that has taken years perfecting smuggling that is the Gaza Strip. The famous tunnels under the border with Egypt have provided the population a way of life and survival during the hardest years. Now, with the change of government in Egypt, are still used but less and less.

However, The Telegraph recently speculated with the possibility of reviving a smuggling route from Iran to Gaza via Sudan, intended primarily to provide weapons to Hamas.

It would not be the first time that the Iranians try, and it would not be the first time that Israel invades foreign airspace to avoid it. Israel attacked in the Sudanese capital several convoys that, according to Tel Aviv, were carrying weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

However, perhaps the most striking act of smuggling in recent months has been a completely different one. It has to do not with weapons, food nor medicine. It is all about a much more primary element of human nature: obtain offspring.

For Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, having children is out of reach. No right to conjugal private meetings means it is impossible to start a family. So they are increasingly resorting to an ingenious method, sperm smuggling.

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Are you afraid? Well, this works in that way. First you do what scares you and it's later when you get the courage
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