Cyprus: Soon home of an Israeli port for Gaza?
Israel is treading a fine line between balancing the needs of Gazans with its own need to contain Hamas- and trading dead soldiers at the same time.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reportedly has advanced a proposal to establish a port in Cyprus that would be used to supply the Gaza Strip with humanitarian assistance. The plan is believed to entail the construction of a new dock for cargo ships carrying goods, which, when unloaded, would be monitored through some undefined mechanism under Israeli auspices to ensure that no weapons are being smuggled to Hamas. Thereafter, the provisions would be ferried to the Palestinian enclave, which currently is subjected to a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
The move, however, is purportedly conditional on Hamas returning to Israel the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed during the 2014 war, in addition to three living Israelis being held captive by the terrorist group who crossed over into Gaza on their own accord. Otherwise, no Israeli demand for Hamas to disarm or, at the very least, abide by a lengthy ceasefire appears to be on the table.
Apparently, the initiative was discussed—and presumably approved—during meetings over the weekend between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, whose regional trip last week to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar focused greatly on alleviating Gaza’s economic plight.
For years, the Israeli political and defense echelons have argued over how to address the situation in Gaza, home to some 1.8 million Palestinians who mainly live in squalor. Following three wars over the past decade, the enclave repeatedly has been reduced to rubble and continues to suffer from severe water and electricity shortages and lacks adequate sewage systems.
As such, Israel has come under increasing internal and external pressure to act, with some advocating that improving the conditions in Gaza will foster stability. On the flip side, others maintain that no amount of aid can fundamentally change the dynamic so long as Hamas rules the territory with an iron fist and continues to divert most of its resources towards building up military infrastructure with a view to actualizing its ideological goal of destroying the Jewish state.
Among the ideas floated in the past include Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz’s plan to build an artificial island off Gaza’s coast that would house a port, cargo terminal and airport; Deputy Minister Michael Oren’s suggestion to expand the Erez crossing—presently used exclusively as a passage point for people—to transfer supplies into the enclave; and Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant’s proposed joint industrial zone in the shared border area.
For its part, the IDF has long recommended issuing thousands of permits to Gazans to enable them to work in Israel, while United Nations Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov has promoted building infrastructure in the Sinai Peninsula to enhance Gaza’s economy.
According to Yaacov Amidror, a former national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and chairman of Israel’s National Security Council, the Cyprus port—which, he noted, has not yet been agreed to by Hamas—is not a long-term strategy but, rather, “a technical measure to ensure that any imports into Gaza are monitored by Israel and will not include weapons; this, while attempting to ease the conditions of the people in Gaza.”
Amidror, currently a member of the Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security of America and a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies, contends that Gaza poses a catch-22 situation for Israel, which “has to balance between the will of Hamas to build its military capabilities and the requirements of the population. And whatever Israel does is restricted either by the first element or second one.”
Nevertheless, “starving Gaza is not a practical option,” he concluded, before stressing that “the only [enduring] solution is to remove Hamas.”
Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, previously the head of the Israeli negotiating team during the Annapolis peace process under then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and currently Managing Director and Senior Research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, agrees that building a port in Cyprus is no fool-proof approach. “Israel knows that any relative prosperity in Gaza will be used by Hamas, either by [siphoning off goods and] money, charging taxes, etc… But the main problem is that Israel has to do something to assist the people there. One must improve their [living] conditions while minimizing the damage, and there will be some.
“I don’t see any ability to solve the problem of Gaza in the near future under Hamas’ rule given the Palestinian Authority is unable or unwilling to take over control,” he elaborated to The Media Line. “There needs to be a political solution but this is impossible due to the internal Palestinian divide. Until then, Israel has to accept Hamas as the responsible—not legitimate—party in Gaza and be ready for every possibility.”
Whether one believes the Cyprus port will be a first-step towards reversing the sorry state of affairs in Gaza or simply provide Hamas with “borrowed time” until Israel is forced to rid the enclave of its tyranny largely depends on how one answers a series of inter-related questions.
First, can Israel improve the circumstances in Gaza without emboldening Hamas to such an extent that it becomes a more dangerous adversary? This, by virtue of reducing the public and economic pressures Hamas faces as the governing entity of an impoverished quasi-state and, conceivably, by enabling the terror group to take advantage of any “opening” to smuggle additional weaponry into the enclave.
If not, Israel is likely following a recipe for recurring violence.
More fundamentally, then, can any plan, including the one currently be discussed, bring relief to Gaza without including as a goal regime change; namely, the ouster of a genocidal theocracy which many contend is the root cause of its citizenry’s ills?
If not, this suggests that Israel may once again be pursuing a Band-aid policy that will not prevent history from repeating itself.
And lastly, does the widely-held “truism” that those with something to lose are more likely to moderate their behavior apply to Gazans? Should their lives indeed be improved with Israel’s help, will they be able to discard the rabid anti-Semitism with which they have been indoctrinated and transform themselves into viable neighbors?
If so, this seemingly would necessitate some form of popular rejection of Hamas’ foundational principles, which, in turn, could lead to its downfall. This eventuality effectively would render the first two questions moot and may, in fact, be Israel’s desired, albeit perhaps unrealistic, end-game.