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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Arms Smuggling from Jordan: Lessons Learned

Filed under: Israel, Jordan

Arms Smuggling from Jordan: Lessons Learned
The 200 handguns and long guns Jordanian parliamentarian Imad Adwan tried smuggling into the West Bank in April 2023.
  • A flood of weapons has crossed Israel’s borders in the last year for use in criminal and terror activities – and maybe in preparation for the day after Abu Mazen.
  • The Palestinians have a large demand for weapons, and Jordan has a large supply. As a result, both sides are motivated to engage in the illicit trade.
  • Israel and Jordan’s efforts and counterterror activity have not deterred the ongoing smuggling. 
  • Israel should increase its intelligence and operational efforts and strengthen deterrence with harsher punishments. Unfortunately, the quick release of the Jordanian parliamentarian, notwithstanding serious political considerations, did not contribute to this context.

Jordanian Member of Parliament Imad Adwan was arrested on April 23, 2023, at the Allenby Bridge while trying to smuggle some 200 weapons into the West Bank – and perhaps beyond into Israel. He was quickly released after questioning and sent back to Jordan. The episode was pushed out of the headlines but deserves an in-depth look. 

The Israeli security investigation revealed that Al-Adwan carried out 12 separate smuggling attempts since early 2022, according to the Arab News.  Presumably, answers to the questions raised by the affair are already in the hands of Adwan’s interrogators in the Shin Bet and Jordanian intelligence, but the phenomenon creates concern.

Adwan is not the only major smuggler. According to IDF figures, during 2020-2021, the smuggling of some 1,600 weapons from Jordan was interdicted, and in the first months of 2023, several hundred weapons were seized in other attempts. However, it is reasonable to assume that this may be the tip of the iceberg, and it is hoped that the overall percentage of foiling the trafficking (which has been paired with illegal drugs in some cases) is much better than the 10 percent success rate in blocking MP al-Adwan’s criminal enterprise.

Lethal Supply and Demand

The Palestinians have a large demand for weapons, and Jordan has a large supply resulting in mutual motivation to engage in the trade. Israel and Jordan’s efforts and counterterror activity have not deterred the smuggling. 

Guns intercepted on the Jordan border in October 2022
Guns intercepted on the Jordan border in October 2022 (Israel Police)
Guns intercepted by the IDF on the Jordan border in February 2022
Guns intercepted by the IDF on the Jordan border in February 2022. (IDF)

A nagging question is to whom are the caches of weapons from Jordan intended? Reasonable suspects are terrorist elements seeking to use quality weapons in terror attacks, and criminal organizations, for whom new weapons make their actions difficult to trace or prove their involvement in crimes. 

Beyond that, it is also possible – even likely – that some of the weapons are intended for Hamas and various elements in Fatah to build their capabilities to compete for control of the Palestinian Authority the day after Mahmoud Abbas. The entire Palestinian system is in suspense for that moment of truth, and it is conceivable that the acquisition and stockpiling of weapons have practical dimensions. 

Given that Adwan is allegedly a “problematic” member of parliament from a faction affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian sister, it is possible his intentions went beyond seeking to profit through criminal acts. Was he also exploiting his status and immunity to build Hamas’ power ahead of the decisive junction?

Israel’s Arab residents also seek weapons to combat criminal gangs and clan wars. Murders within the Arab population in Israel are increasing at an alarming rate. The shootouts and disorder may serve the purposes of external adversaries to destabilize life in Israel.

Assessing  Lessons Learned. 

Some important lessons emerge from the affair: First, the assumption that the Jordanian government is vigilant over what happens in the field of smuggling in Jordan and its projections on Israel’s security and the security of the Palestinian Authority is doubtful. [Jordan is also fighting a plague of opiate drug smuggling from Syria.] The hypothesis that had the Jordanians known about the smuggling they would have stopped it remains in question. Jordan’s ability appears limited, possibly due to insufficient intelligence penetration into the illicit enterprise or because closing down smuggling is not a priority since it does not directly threaten the regime. It is also possible that the Jordanians do not want to be portrayed at home as Israel’s defenders, and when they have relevant information, they prefer to pass it to Israel to carry out preventive measures. 

Any lacuna in intelligence gathering is worrisome. Considering the hostile atmosphere to Israel that characterizes the Jordanian street today and concerns over Iranian entreaties to Sunni regimes, an inability to obtain information is problematic. Moreover, it could project on the stability of the regime itself, which is already confronting growing domestic challenges. 

A second lesson from the Adwan affair relates to Israel’s security on its eastern border. The claim that Israel’s security no longer requires military and intelligence control over Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley, including a military presence in vital areas and control of the crossings and the Jordan Valley “in its broadest sense” (as Rabin said in the Knesset in October 1995) is proven erroneous. This claim was the basis of the security component of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s peace proposals (i.e., General Allen’s security plan). The lessons of the smuggling and the security threats from Palestinian enclaves prove Israel’s well-considered rejection of the U.S. notions.

What should be done about the arms smuggling? First, Israel must process the lessons, increase its capacity to deal with the phenomenon, and thwart it on its own. This should be done through increased intelligence and operational efforts and by strengthening deterrence with harsher punishments. Unfortunately, the quick release of the Jordanian parliamentarian, notwithstanding serious political considerations, did not contribute to this context. Second, Israel needs to increase cooperation with Jordan against the scourge of smuggling and demand that Jordan increase its efforts, which are also necessary to strengthen its own security. 

Ostensibly, the PA and its security forces are possible interlocutors on the issue, but in practice, the chances that they will earnestly work to thwart arms smuggling are meager. 

Finally, the efforts must be intensified to damage the terrorist infrastructure in the PA territories and confiscate the weapons in the possession of terrorist operatives there.