High-salaried Palestinian Authority officials are the smugglers’ clientele. So in other words, they are paying for these cars with your UN relief money.
“Smuggling in North Sinai Surges as the Police Vanish,” by David D. Kirkpatrick in the New York Times, August 14 (thanks to Bill):
RAFAH, Egypt “” The smuggler’s car lot is so brazenly out in the open, it is hard to tell that the business is actually illegal.
A Bedouin car smuggler in Rafah, Egypt, can expect to make at least $2,000 per vehicle, after paying suppliers and bribes.
Cars are driven from the chaos in Libya to this small patch of sand amid the fig trees in the North Sinai desert, where Palestinians can pick out their model and haggle over the price. Then they wait in Gaza for delivery through tunnels snaking beneath the border.
The police have all but disappeared from the northern Sinai since the Egyptian revolution, and the smuggling business has grown so exponentially that Hamas, the militant group controlling Gaza, recently decided to limit the car imports to 30 a week for fear of pollution and traffic congestion in the narrow Mediterranean enclave, smugglers say.
“There are no police around to check,” one smuggler said as a white Hyundai Tucson with Libyan plates pulled into the lot.
As law enforcement returns elsewhere in Egypt six months after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, there is still almost no sign of the police in Bedouin-dominated North Sinai, the region along the border with Israel that has long been a center of criminal activity. Mr. Mubarak treated it as virtual enemy territory and flooded it with police officers as he sought to help enforce an Israeli blockade of Gaza.
And now the withdrawal of his security forces has unleashed not only a smuggling bonanza but also a more violent backlash against his Israel policy. Six unexplained bombing attacks (the first one failed to go off) have repeatedly shut down a pipeline that delivers natural gas to Israel under a Mubarak-era contract that is wildly unpopular because of its association with both Israel and corruption. The interruption of the gas supply has done as much as any formal policy change to strain relations between the two allies. No one has been arrested in any of the attacks.
The Egyptian military announced over the weekend that it was deploying more troops to the border region to help with security, but Bedouin around Rafah said Monday that they had noticed no change. […]
Smugglers said they earned a generous profit on cars purchased in Libya. One said he might buy a Libyan car for the equivalent of $22,000 and sell it in Gaza for about $30,000. Another said he bought a black BMW x6 sports car for $80,000 and planned to sell it for $100,000, after a few desert joy rides for himself. Smugglers say they pay about $6,000 to Hamas and the tunnel owner and, after various other bribes, typically pocket $2,000 to $2,500 in profit per car.
Though unemployment is high in Gaza, there are plenty of salaried Palestinian government officials, small-business people and those active in the black market who can afford to buy a car.
On the streets of North Sinai’s regional capital, El Arish, a smuggler pointed out the illicit cars. The irregular bolts on the license plates gave away a stolen black Toyota Hilux pickup, and a white Hyundai without any plates was a model sold in Libya but unavailable in Egypt. The smuggler spoke on condition of anonymity because, after all, his work was illegal, though he and others said that since the revolution the authorities seemed to worry only about political activities, not criminal acts.
“We have had no problems at all since the revolution “” not even close calls,” a smuggler said as he puffed on a water pipe with a group of confederates around a table along the beach at a local hotel….