Gaza from the sea.
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.– Attributed to Albert Einstein
Just when you thought that you could not possibly hear anything more preposterous on how to help resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, somehow someone always manages to prove you wrong by coming out with a policy proposal so glaringly absurd that it transcends what you mistakenly believed was the pinnacle of imbecility.
Harebrained and hazardous
Disturbingly, precisely such a hopelessly hare-brained scheme is now being repeatedly bandied about by Israelis in positions of influence.
The idea is to provide Gaza with what, in effect, will be a detachable civilian port, under Israeli supervision. It is to be built on an offshore artificial island, connected to the mainland by a bridge over 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long, which, according to its proponents, can easily be disconnected should the Gazans “misbehave.”
Actually, this nonsensical notion has been around for quite some time. Indeed, as early as 2011, British daily The Guardian reported that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was pursuing the idea, which he estimated would cost $10 billion and take about a decade to complete.
Lately, however, it has been raised with increasing frequency in the media, and publicly endorsed by both government ministers and senior IDF brass.
Thus, earlier this year, Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, formerly the head of the IDF Southern Command, expressed his support for the idea in an interview with Bloomberg.
Just prior to that, Haaretz reported that
“senior Israel Defense Forces officers are in favor in principle of a port for the Gaza Strip,”
and just last week The Jerusalem Post wrote:
“High up within the defense establishment, some believe that the time has come for Israel to set up a civilian seaport for the Gaza Strip.”
Detachable port? Detached from reality!
Indeed, at a conference held this weekend in New York, Katz, who, in addition to the transportation portfolio holds the post of intelligence minister, reiterated his previous support for a Gaza port on an artificial offshore island:
“The offshore project could provide Gaza with an economic and humanitarian gateway to the world without endangering Israeli security.”
I confess that the first time I heard of this appallingly absurd idea was in a private conversation several months ago with someone (who shall remain nameless) considered a serious contender for the post of Mossad director. I remember at the time being taken aback by the idea, so clearly ill-conceived and ill fated, being promoted by someone so high ranking. But I took (false) comfort in the belief that it was so wildly outlandish that it would never be given serious consideration by those in authority.
As it turns out, I was sadly mistaken — as this perilous proposal continues to enjoy sustained attention in the discourse.
Soldiers turned sociologists?
Perhaps most disturbing are the reports of the support the idea received from senior IDF officers — both past and present — and the rationale behind this support. Typically, it has nothing to do with any military considerations or operational advantage Israel might gain but rather on a (highly questionable) assessment of socioeconomic trends in Gaza and the ramifications this may have for the Gazan public.
One well-informed military affairs correspondent explains the underpinnings of this “rationale,” for want of a better word:
“Hamas, the argument goes, would be hard pressed to careen down the slope of a new war with Israel, even if it wanted to, if the Gazan economy were to begin to take off, enjoying imports and exports, allowing for jobs and income, and giving the civilian population something to lose. While there is no doubt that Hamas is responsible for Gaza’s dire economic state by insisting on jihad with Israel rather than investing in its people’s welfare, Israeli defense officials still feel that they can and should assist the Gazan people attain a better life.”
While some may find this professed concern for the welfare of enemy civilians both noble and a reflection of “enlightened self-interest,” in truth it portends ominous outcomes for Israel and Israelis. This position is so diametrically at odds with past experience, and flies so directly in the face of the facts of recent decades that it is difficult to know what is more disturbing: Whether the supporters of the proposal really believe what they are saying or whether they are saying it despite the fact that they don’t.
Reinforcing the rationale for terror
Of no less concern is that this position echoes the sentiments expressed by both Katz and Gallant, who have said that
“the biggest danger to Israel is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. … If Gaza had the ability to bring ships, and goods, without posing a security threat, that is in everybody’s interest.”
This message strongly reinforces the well-known terror justifying rationale implying that economic privation is the primary cause of the Judeocidal terrorism emanating from Gaza. This argument suggests that if the residents of that ill-fated strip were afforded greater prosperity it would stifle their motivation to perpetrate acts of terror.
But this thesis is wrong on virtually every level. Firstly, it is risible to believe that Hamas, that has deliberately put its own civilians in harm’s way, gives a hoot about their economic well-being. After all, if it has scant regard for their lives, why should their livelihood be of greater concern? Indeed, it is far more likely that if the general economic situation were to improve, Hamas would coercively appropriate much of this newfound wealth for its own belligerent needs — with prosperity making it more potent, not more pacific.
Perhaps a more effective, but heretically politically incorrect, suggestion for removing Hamas would be to allow socio-economic conditions to deteriorate so drastically that the general populace would rise up against it, depose it and ensconce a hopefully more amenable regime, with greater sensitivity for its needs.
But I digress.
To suggest that by alleviating economic hardship Israel could alleviate terror is not only to invert the causal relationship between the two, but it also implies that the victim of terrorism is to blame for the attackers’ aggression — an implication that is both counterproductive and false.
Port no panacea for poverty
Of course, as I have demonstrated at length elsewhere, the allegedly dire situation in Gaza is not the cause of the terrorism that emanates from it. It is the consequence of that terrorism. The onerous measures that Israel is compelled to undertake to ensure the safety of its citizens is not the reason for, but the result of that terror. If the latter were eliminated, there would be no need for the former — and far more rational solutions than a multibillion-dollar artificial island could be found to facilitate the flow of goods and people to and from Gaza.
Indeed, no great analytical acumen should be required to bring us to the conclusion that a port in Gaza will never be a panacea for the poverty of the population. Hamas and its terrorist cohorts are not burrowing attack tunnels because Gaza has no port. They are burrowing them despite the fact it does not have one.
After all, Gaza already has access to a modern port under Israeli supervision, barely 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of it — in Ashdod.
Under conditions of peace (or even credible non-belligerency), Ashdod can supply all of Gaza’s supervised civilian needs, without squandering billions on a fanciful floating island port.
However, under conditions of ongoing belligerency, even under the strictest Israeli supervision, there is no way — short of taking control of Gaza — to ensure that dual purpose material such as cement, fertilizer and steel aren’t used for sinister purposes.
“Hamas is stealing 95% of civilian cement”
The intensity of this problem — and the futility of a Gaza port as a means of solving, or even alleviating it, was vividly highlighted by a recent report in the International Business Times. It cited the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dr. Dore Gold, who revealed at the U.N. World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul that Hamas siphons 95% of the cement transferred into the Gaza Strip for the purpose of building homes so that it can use it for military purposes and tunnel construction. Gold told the conference: “From our own investigations we found that out of every 100 sacks of cement that come into the Gaza strip … only five or six are transferred to civilians.”
So, even if the island port were under tight inspection, how could Israel ensure that the building materials aren’t used to rebuilt the recently discovered tunnels? How could it ensure that steel was not being used to fabricate missiles and missile launchers? How can it be sure that fertilizers weren’t being diverted to manufacture explosives?
Moreover, one might ask how Israeli supervision was to be maintained and how the safety of the Israeli personnel was to be ensured in an isolated, offshore port, should the be set upon by a bloodthirsty local mob?
Humanitarian solution for humanitarian crisis
The crippling unemployment in Gaza, reportedly above 40%, will not be alleviated by transferring Israeli supervision from Ashdod and the Gaza border crossings to an offshore islet. There is soaring unemployment because any creative energies that might exist in Gaza are not being channeled toward productive or constructive goals, but rather into fomenting violence against the despised “Zionist entity.” A port will not change those realities. Indeed, it is likely to exacerbate them.
The penury of the enclave is not due to lack of resources, but to the preferences and priorities of the brigands who govern it, and as events have shown, the only way Israel can determine who governs Gaza — and who does not — is by governing it itself.
Katz, Gallant and the IDF top brass are right to believe that Israel should defuse the brewing humanitarian crisis in Gaza — which is demonstrably the consequence of the ill-conceived two-state approach and misguided attempts to foist statehood on the Palestinians.