Israeli Security Officials Oppose Defense Chief's Decision to Cut Gaza Fuel Transfers

Officials believe it's impossible to pressure Hamas and completely halt all shipments without worsening the humanitarian situation in the Strip

Lieberman during a tour of the Kerem Shalon crossing, July 2018
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision to halt fuel and gas transfers to Gaza on Friday was taken against the opinions of senior members of the Israeli defense establishment. 

The senior officials feel Israel must differentiate between the fuel it transfers to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip and the fuel donated by Qatar.

On a daily basis Israel transfers enough fuel and gas to provide a minimum needed to prevent a collapse of systems in the Strip. These shipments are separate from those that Qatar decided to send earlier this week.

Israel first agreed to transfer the fuel paid for by Qatar with the easing tensions in the region and signal to Hamas that if it lowers the flames along the border fence, Israel will seek to improve the situation in Gaza. 

>> New measures fail to stop noxious smoke from Gaza

The decision was made against the backdrop of the Palestinian Authority’s opposition to allowing such supplies, along with strong political and public criticism.

Those opposed to the steps say it weakens Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and makes Israel look like it’s cooperating with Hamas via mediators, precisely at a time when Hamas is igniting the border.

The clashes along the fence in the past week and the daily protests and confrontations near the fence, including Friday’s deadly confrontations, have been interpreted by the security establishment and political echelons as making a mockery of Israel’s intentions.

AFP

Lieberman told officials in the defense establishment he intends to stop the shipments of fuel paid for by Qatar, which amount to two to four tankers which pipe the fuel into Gaza. Senior figures in the defense establishment believed at the same time that the intent to halt Qatari aide was a logical step to try and put pressure on Hamas.

On Saturday, opposing defense establishment expectations, Lieberman made clear his intentions to prevent the delivery of all fuel and gas, until further notice.

“As long as the violence doesn’t come to a complete stop in the Gaza Strip, including the dispatch of incendiary balloons and burning tires across from Israeli settlements, there will be no renewal of fuel and gas deliveries to  the Gaza Strip,” Lieberman wrote on his Twitter account.

In discussions Friday in the defense establishment, it was felt by all those involved that it would be going too far to set conditions regarding incendiary balloons and burning tires, and that this could force Lieberman to renege on his statements.

The officials believe it is impossible to halt fuel and gas shipments for several days without worsening the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Several of them have said in recent months that Israel must completely distinguish between confrontations along the border and the continuation of humanitarian aid.

Each day Israel delivers 15 tankers of fuel and gasoline to Gaza via Kerem Shalom, and another six or seven tanks of gas. This is considered the minimum needed to prevent a humanitarian disaster.  The fuel is intended mainly for electricity, and within a few days there won’t be enough to provide power in Gaza to hospitals and homes.

An irregular infiltration under the guise of smoke

The IDF investigated the incident in which Palestinians crossed the fence on Friday and charged toward soldiers. Three Palestinians were killed in the incident from soldiers’ live gunfire, and another 15 turned back to Gaza because of it.

According to the investigation, several Palestinians got close to the fence under the cover of smoke that that rose from the burning tires sent up. They then set off an explosion that blew a hole in the fence.

Palestinian protesters hurl stones toward Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, October 12, 2018
Khalil Hamra,AP

A paratrooper force fired warning shots, and the protesters began to disperse. Three of them remained in Israel and moved toward an elite unit snipers’ position. 

Two of them were shot immediately and the third Palestinian reached the sandy mound where the snipers were positioned. The investigation describes how one of them shot him from point blank range and that a knife was found on his body.

The IDF has decided against holding on to the remains, and the soldiers took the protesters’ bodies back to the site of the hole in the fence.  Palestinians on the other side took them back to Gaza.

The IDF distinguishes between this incident which it regards seriously and other incidents in recent months in which Palestinians succeed on a daily basis to infiltrate Israel.

The IDF doesn’t view it as a significant threat, and in all these cases the forces in the area have tried to reach the area quickly to thwart the infiltration. 

A new fence being built in parallel to the underground barrier is expected to replace the lax fence that the protesters cross.

Most of them are young people who cross a few meters into Israel, document themselves doing so and then return to Gaza after trying to set fire to an empty snipers’ perch for a show achievement to boost morale.