Israeli Security Service Says Situation in Gaza Is Serious - 'But Not a Humanitarian Crisis'

While the military chief warns that Gaza is on the verge of collapse due to the worsening crisis, the defense minister believes that Hamas is deliberately exaggerating its scope

A Palestinian woman feeds her daughter as they sit by a fire on a rainy day in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, January 19, 2018.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

A document written by the Shin Bet security service’s research division that was presented last week to senior politicians states that the civilian and economic distress in the Gaza Strip is serious, “but doesn’t meet the definition of a humanitarian crisis.”

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The document, which was sent to the ministers in the security cabinet, was written in the context of a dispute between defense and diplomatic officials over the need to take urgent steps to reduce the distress in the Strip.

In recent weeks, senior Israel Defense Forces officials and the office of the Government Coordinator of Activities in the Territories have warned numerous ministers and members of Knesset of the possible consequences of the worsening situation in the Strip. During remarks to the cabinet earlier this month, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned that the Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse due to the worsening humanitarian crisis.

In contrast, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman believes that while the distress in the Strip is real, the Hamas government is deliberately exaggerating its scope. Lieberman attributes this to a Hamas effort to force the Palestinian Authority leadership to send more economic aid to Gaza. Lieberman opposes extensive relief aid for Gaza for two other reasons: He is conditioning it on progress in the negotiations for returning the bodies of the IDF soldiers and the Israeli civilians being held in the Strip, and he fears that any relief will be used to bolster Hamas’ military force in Gaza. However, it seems that Lieberman might soon be willing to consider some limited concessions.

Reconciliation talks between Hamas and the PA have been held intermittently for the past few weeks in Cairo with Egyptian mediation, reportedly with little if any progress. Hamas is refusing the PA’s demand to subordinate its military units and weapons to the PA’s command. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, is very skeptical about the PA gaining anything from the reconciliation and isn’t ready to make any more significant economic gestures toward Gaza.

This week, however, a delegation of Egyptian intelligence officials is in Gaza to discuss making it easier to bring goods from Egypt into the Strip. Recently Hamas began to buy fuel from Egypt instead of getting it through Israel.