Last week, Israeli military-intelligence officials, foreign military, and business representatives gathered for two days near Tel Aviv at the first “Intelligence, Terror and Special Forces in the Global Jihad Era and the Information Revolution” defense conference. As attendees sipped lattes and browsed the latest intelligence technology for sale, Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Transportation Yisrael Katz shared plans to build an Israeli-controlled island off the coast of Gaza as a way for Israel to “disengage” from the embattled strip while maintaining the eight-year-siege.
“We have to disengage from the Gaza Strip,” Katz declared. His statement lays bare the reality of Israel’s continued occupation. While Israeli officials often publicly claim that Israel “left” Gaza in 2005 when it evacuated and destroyed its settlements, Gaza has remained under Israeli occupation, a crippling siege and a naval blockade.
Katz’s position reflects the desire in military intelligence circles to further extricate Israel from affairs in the Gaza Strip while still maintaining ultimate control over it. A year removed from the 51-day war, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, Israel and Hamas are in indirect negotiations. The ceasefire conditions that Hamas listed have not been implemented, and the supposed plans to restore Gaza’s airport and construct a seaport have not materialized.
He reiterated what is known as the Singapore option, in which some in the military-intelligence apparatus propose to build an island and seaport off of Gaza’s coast. This would allow Israel to maintain the naval blockade while allowing import and export of goods and facilitating travel. Military planners have gone as far as measuring a sea shelf 17 kilometers out with the idea of a bridge connecting the prospective island to the shore, according to Katz.
“This island can be controlled. We can maintain the blockade and have the island,” the minister said. As has been outlined before, Katz said the islands would have hotels and tourists.
While the floating harbor plans have slowly advanced, Katz admitted this remains an extremely unlikely option. “Why hasn’t this happened until now? Security systems are very conservative and are not willing to take steps,” the minister said.
“We aren’t interested in having a hug with Gaza,” Katz continued. “That was the case when there were settlements. Now we don’t want to hug and embrace.”
With no Israeli settlements inside Gaza, the evacuation untied the military’s hands to “mow the lawn” – a euphemism for the extreme violence employed in the last three Israeli wars on Gaza.
Katz thanked the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. “Egypt makes an effort to block the Gaza Strip. It’s not hermetic but we should welcome it,” he said. “They dont want to take responsibility of Gaza.”
Speaking about the recent flotilla which Israeli commandos raided in international waters, tasing a passenger and subsequently lying about it, Katz said, “There was a temptation to let the flotilla pass but that would break the right of every country to protect its borders.”
By this statement, it’s clear the Israeli government considers the international waters surrounding the Gaza Strip within its borders.
Meanwhile, as the Israeli government schemes to extricate itself from its legal responsibilities as an occupying power without ending the occupation, the Gaza Strip remains in almost the same catastrophic condition it was on the day of the final ceasefire last summer. Since then, Israeli officials have both called for another major military operation as well as negotiations with Hamas. For now, indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas continue, though the spectre of another war is never far off. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated yesterday at a Gaza war memorial: “I say to all enemies of Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Islamic State, too — whoever tries to harm us, their blood is upon their heads.”