Israeli Military Chief Warns: Gaza on Verge of Collapse, Brings Both Sides Closer to War in 2018

Gadi Eisenkot echoes warnings from other senior army officers, presenting the cabinet with a number of possible scenarios that a deteriorating situation in Gaza could cause

File photo: A Palestinian carries plastic gallons he filled with drinking water from a vendor, background, in Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp.
KHALIL HAMRA / AP

Army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned the cabinet on Sunday that the Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse due to the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Additional deterioration could bring the prospect of a confrontation between the two sides closer this year, although neither side wants that, the chief of staff said. Eisenkot called on Israel to take substantial steps to head off a collapse of the situation in the Strip.

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Eisenkot presented the cabinet with a number of possible scenarios that a deteriorating situation in Gaza could cause, echoing remarks that senior army officers have been making recently. It has been made clear to the country’s political leadership, for example, that an announced suspension of funding by the Trump administration for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, would be expected to worsen the situation in Gaza.

Israeli army officials have also warned that until recently, between 800 and 1,200 trucks a day were entering Gaza with food and equipment. Now that figure has dropped to about 300, reflecting the dramatic drop in the purchasing power of Gaza residents. The more the situation deteriorates, Israel Defense Force officials said, the more Gazan protesters will demonstrate at the border fence with Israel. The number of demonstrators has already increased in recent weeks, and Israeli army sources expressed concern that an incident along the fence could spark an escalation.

>> Hamas 'Prepares for Imminent War' With Israel in Gaza <<

Last week, Israel presented a plan for the humanitarian rehabilitation of Gaza, along with a request to the international community to fund it, to an emergency conference in Brussels of countries and organizations providing financial assistance to the Palestinians. The plan, which would cost an estimated billion dollars, would feature Israeli assistance in building infrastructure related to desalination, electricity and natural gas and the upgrading of the industrial zone at the Erez border crossing into Gaza.

About three months ago, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, called for the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for the Gaza Strip, through which the international community would provide funds to improve the enclave’s economy. Mordechai also coauthored an article in which he referred to the link between the civilian and economic predicaments there and security.

Hamas pushing same scenario

The Gaza Strip is preparing for confrontation with Israel within the next few days, the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat reported on Sunday. According to the report, Palestinian factions, Hamas being chief among them, assess the chances of war with Israel “at 95 percent” and assume it could erupt within days.

Sources that have met with Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ political leader in Gaza, say Palestinian factions believe Israel will use a training exercise planned on the southern front to open a military operation against Hamas. The report further said the military wing of Hamas has declared a state of high alert, evacuating sites and headquarters and even deploying roadblocks across the Strip.

Political and human rights activists in Gaza told Haaretz that the atmosphere in the Strip is very grim in light of the humanitarian crisis, some of which involves the failure to implement the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, along with mutual recriminations between the PA and Hamas over the freeze in talks. 

Still, it seems the report of an impending military clash within days is exaggerated, and is part of an attempt by Hamas to ratchet up international discussion over the severe humanitarian situation in the Strip and the lack of progress toward reconciliation. It is widely believed that Israel will not initiate war with Hamas without real escalation in the south, such as a surge in rocket fire at southern communities.

In the wider region, Egypt is not interested in an escalation, considering its continued operations against ISIS in Sinai and its upcoming presidential elections next week.

Political and human rights activists who spoke with Haaretz say Hamas launching a campaign against Israel remains unlikely at this point.

A senior delegation of Fatah officials is set to visit the Gaza Strip this week. They are to hold meetings with the leadership of Hamas and other factions. The PA says Hamas has not yet given up control over security or tax collection, while Hamas accuses the PA of shirking its responsibility toward the Gaza Strip. Hamas says that while it has given up administration to the Mahmoud Abbas government, Abbas has not yet ordered the lifting of sanctions it imposed about a year ago.

Palestinian sources told Al Hayat that Abbas has presented an alternative plan to that of U.S. President Donlad Trump, which calls for a phased recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with possible exchanges of territory allowing Israel to annex the large settlements. According to the report, Abbas has conditioned his agreement to phased recognition to agreement on borders, but the White House rejected that proposal and said its plan would be presented for implementation, not negotiation.

This report has not been confirmed by officials in the PA, and talks are continuing with international officials, particularly Russia, to move ahead on a UN Security Council resolution.