Palestinians at the Seaport of Gaza City. (Aaed Tayeh/Flash90). Aaed Tayeh/Flash90
Palestinians at the Seaport of Gaza City. (Aaed Tayeh/Flash90).

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Hamas and its terror affiliates are not burrowing tunnels, flying incendiary kites and firing rockets at Israeli civilians because Gaza has no port. They are doing so despite the fact that it does not have one!

By: Martin Sherman

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

It is difficult not to recall this rather pungent maxim—widely attributed to Albert Einstein—in light of recent reports that the Israeli government is once again raising the issue of providing a port for Gaza.

In principle, of course, it may be possible to conjure up a more preposterous and pernicious proposal—but it certainly would not be easy…

A tale of two…islands?

Yet, despite being manifestly moronic, such potentially perilous propositions have been raised regularly with perplexing persistence. Moreover, quite apart from their clearly calamitous content, what makes these inane initiatives particularly perturbing are the identities of those promoting them—typically high ranking (past and present) IDF officers and senior government ministers serving in the present government.

In the past, attention was focused mainly on the bizarre idea of creating an artificial island (detachable in times of conflict), about three kilometers off the Gazan shore, whose construction would cost billions and take a good number of years to complete.

According to advocates of this “visionary” (read “hallucinatory”) enterprise, there will be desalination plants, power stations and even an airport on the man-made maritime platform—leading one to puzzle over why on earth such projects would be more successful if they were built several kilometers out to sea, rather than on the Gazan shore itself…

In the last few days, however, a new and even more ludicrous version of the “port for Gaza” concept has emerged—reportedly with the backing of the Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman—involving another island, this time a naturally occurring one and one much further removed from Gaza: Cyprus!

According to this latest “pearl of wisdom”, Israel will act to find or build a dock in Cyprus which will, allegedly, include mechanisms for supervision, inspection and control of merchandize “to ensure that no weapons or ‎contraband are being smuggled into Gaza.”

Even kites have become ‘dual purpose’

Clearly, in a single opinion column, it is not possible to enumerate—much less, to elaborate and discuss—all the flaws and detriments of these harebrained and hazardous schemes. As I have dealt with some of these defects elsewhere—see for example here and here—I shall confine myself to a brutally abbreviated list:

▪ How could Israel control the use of “dual purpose” materials once they were imported? This would include—among others—imports of fertilizer (used in production of explosives), iron, steel and other metals (used in the production of rockets, missiles and their launchers) and cement (used in the construction of terror tunnels).

▪The severity of this problem is underscored by the assessment of senior officials that –even today, under tight Israeli supervision—over 90% of the cement brought into Gaza is seized by Hamas for its own nefarious, “non-civilian” needs. It is, of course, difficult to see how this problem would be alleviated if the Gazans (and hence, Hamas) had their own port facilities.

▪ In this regard, we should recall that the Palestinian-Arabs have greatly expanded the scope of the term “dual purpose”, which today includes items such as kites, balloons, fuel, nails, kitchen knives and everyday civilian automobiles. All of these have been regularly converted into weapons of war against the Jews—to destroy their property or to take their lives.

Merely a reconfiguration of the ‘occupation’

Moreover:

▪ In the “detachable island” version of the Gaza port, what will become of the Israeli (or international) inspectors, alone and isolated on the artificial platform, if (or is that “when”) they are suddenly beset upon by an incensed Gazan mob, spurred on by Islamist incitement emanating from within Gaza, or from elsewhere in the Muslim world?

▪ In the “Cyprus” version of the port for Gaza, how could Israel prevent the loading of weapons or other prohibited merchandize onto the ship, while in transit from Cyprus to Gaza—without close Israeli naval escort of incoming ships and intrusive powers of inspection of their cargo—in case of any suspicion arising. How on earth is that not to be perceived as merely an extension of the “occupation”?

▪ Perhaps, most crucially, what will constitute a legitimate reason for terminating the operation of the port (or detaching access to it)? Who will be authorized to do so? If that is exclusively an Israeli prerogative, how does this arrangement reduce Israeli control of life in Gaza? If it is not, how can Israel ensure that prohibited merchandize, that endangers its security, will not continue to flow?

These are merely a small sample of the deeply troubling questions as to the prospects and the prudence of providing a port for Gaza.

Inverting causality

But perhaps the most disconcerting element pertaining to the port-for-Gaza pitch is the arguments advanced for advocating it. These are that (a) the proposed port will alleviate the economic crisis in Gaza and hence induce a reduction in the violence against Israel; and (b) the proposed port will constitute an appropriate quid-pro-quo in exchange for the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers held by Hamas since the 2014 “Protective Edge” campaign and for the two errant Israeli civilians, held by the organization.

The first of these constitutes an appalling misreading of the situation. Indeed, in effect, it comprises support for the mendacious narrative propagated by the Palestinian-Arabs- i.e. that the ongoing terror in Gaza is a result of the “occupation.” Thus, it is Israel who bears the blame for it, and if Israel would only behave more benignly, peace and tranquility would reign throughout the land.

Of course, quite the opposite is true. The Arab enmity towards Israel is the cause, not the consequence, of the dire socio-economic conditions in Gaza.

This prosperity-prevents-terror thesis is hopelessly misguided. Indeed, it is risible to believe that Hamas, who has deliberately put its own civilians in harm’s way, gives a hoot about their economic well-being. Clearly then, if it has scant regard for their lives, why should their livelihood be of greater concern?

Moreover, if there was any sincere desire in Gaza to improve the prevailing conditions, all that Hamas need do is…stop trying to kill Jews—and allow Israeli energy and enterprise to help lift Gaza out of its current penury—just as within a few decades, they transformed Israel from a poor, underdeveloped agricultural-based country, into a prosperous, dynamic post-industrial power.

Fostering future extortion

As for the second argument advanced for providing Gaza with a port—i.e. that it would induce Hamas to release the bodies of fallen combatants and detained civilians—this would clearly comprise unequivocal endorsement of the efficacy of Hamas’s method of blackmail and encourage its continued use in the future

For clearly, if by holding the remains of IDF soldiers—and two reportedly unstable civilians—hostage, the terror organization is able to extort a harbor, it is extremely difficult to imagine that this will not be construed as a clear invitation to persist with precisely such extortion.

Moreover, if the general economic situation were to improve, Hamas would almost certainly coercively appropriate much of this newfound wealth for its own belligerent needs—with enhanced prosperity making it more potent—not more pacific.

Indeed, no great analytical acumen is required to grasp that, for Gaza, a port will never be a panacea for the poverty of the population. Nor are Hamas, and its other terrorist cohorts, burrowing tunnels, flying incendiary kites and firing rockets at Israeli civilians because Gaza has no port.

To the contrary, they are doing so despite the fact it does not have one!

The ultimate irony…and absurdity

However, the ultimate irony—and absurdity—in this sorry saga is that Gaza already has a port…in the nearby Israeli city of Ashdod (about 20 miles away), which is closer to Gaza than most other population centers in Israel.

In times of peace—or even durable non-belligerency—Ashdod can provide for all Gaza’s commercial needs. And in times of war, or military conflict, is anyone seriously suggesting they have a port??

Geez. I wonder what Einstein would say…

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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