Intelligence: Bedouin Business Backfires

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July 30, 2021: In southern Israel (Negev), Yaqoub Abu al Qiaan, a wealthy Bedouin businessman was charged with passing information to Iranian intelligence via his relationship with a Lebanese man known to pass on information about events in Lebanon and Israel via Hezbollah. Qiaan claimed he was innocent and that he thought the meetings with the Lebanese man, which did not take place, was to be held covertly because he was discussing the possibility of business opportunities in Arab countries as a result of improved relations between Arab states and Israel. Qiaan was arrested on June 10th and charged a month later with passing information about his relationships with Israelis. Qiaan insists the information was public and only mentioned to establish his good relations with Israeli politicians. This was something that would be needed to obtain business for an Israeli construction company owned by an Israeli citizen who was Bedouin.

Qiaan lived in Negev, the desert area of southern Israel adjacent to Sinai. Negev is where most of Israel’s 210,000 Bedouin live. A few Israeli Bedouin have joined Islamic terror groups, but most prefer to join the Israeli military and many make a career of it, becoming officers or senior NCOs in the process. Most Israeli Bedouin do not consider themselves Palestinians, have largely stayed out of Palestinian political conflicts and do not get along with Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza or Sinai. There are 600,000 Bedouin in Sinai and most of the adult men are armed. About five percent of the Sinai Bedouin belong to the powerful Tarabin tribe, which has been openly at war with ISIL in Sinai. The Sinai Bedouin have long been the most active smugglers in the region and will generally work with anyone who can pay. ISIL made additional demands, like not smuggling alcohol or tobacco products and Hamas was seen as collaborating with ISIL at the expense of the Bedouin. Some Bedouin tribes were more supportive of Islamic terror groups, especially those tribes that are traditional rivals of the Tarabins. ISIL had some success in manipulating those rivalries but by 2016 most Bedouin tribes were fed up with ISIL and saw them as a bunch of suicidal losers. For Sinai Bedouin the main enemy remains the Egyptian government, but even that has been low-key antagonism because sone older Egyptians remember that Israel was more successful governing Sinai (from 1967-82) than Egypt; a subject Egyptians are reluctant to talk about. The Israelis always treated the Bedouin and Islamic outcasts like the Druze (from Syria) with more fairness than anyone else in the region. Although most Arabs in Arabia are Bedouin (or identify as such), outside of Arabia (especially in Egypt, Iraq and Syria) being seen as Bedouin was rarely a good thing.

About .5 percent of Egyptians are Bedouin while in Israel 3.5 percent of the population is Bedouin and the Israeli Bedouin do much better than their Egyptian counterparts. Educational and job opportunities are much better in Israel, while Israeli Bedouin get along much better with the security forces than in Egypt. Israel also has more Bedouin in the army and police than does Egypt. The smuggling is illegal on both sides of the border. Bedouin dominate it, and realize that helping the security forces prevent Islamic terrorists from crossing the border means less military and police attention to the more traditional smuggling of goods and illegal migrants.

There have been a few exceptions. In late 2020 Israel arrested an Israeli Bedouin plus nine of his family, and charged them all with spying for Hamas. Some of those arrested were also charged with planning a bombing within Israel. This began in 2019 when one of the Bedouins was recruited by Hamas to gather information on Israeli military activities in the south, mainly the Negev desert where the Bedouin family lived. One of the arrested Bedouin had entered Gaza several times and in one visit was given bomb building training.

This incident and the recent arrest of Qiaan are rare compared to the number of non-Bedouin Israeli Moslems who have been accused of espionage, usually for Hezbollah because most of the Israeli Arabs (about 20 percent of the population), live in the north and are more hostile to the state of Israel even though they all benefit from it. That is another reason why most Arabs in the region dislike Israel, the Druze and Bedouins. The 2020 incident was a rare case of a Bedouin becoming radicalized against Israel and that failed largely because such activity is considered hostile towards Bedouin as well Israelis in general. Qiaan has yet to be tried before a court and may well prove his innocence.

 


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