Analysis

Israel's Defense Chief Calls Idea of Aiding Gaza 'Delusional.’ But He's Intentionally Misleading

Avigdor Lieberman knows his government and military support such assistance, but wants to appear as the right flank

Israeli defense chief Avigdor Lieberman in a West Bank visit, 2014.
Ariel Hermony, Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman once again came out Sunday morning against humanitarian aid to Gaza. In an interview on Army Radio ahead of Sunday’s security cabinet meeting on the matter, Lieberman called the idea that measures of humanitarian relief would lead to cessation of terror “hallucinations and delusions.” But when he was asked to detail what precisely he would recommend doing about the situation, he evaded a clear response and persisted in slogans.

Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, is right to some extent; humanitarian relief measures here and there in the Gaza Strip are not a long-term solution to a problem that is fundamentally about the aspirations for national liberation. But he is also wrong and misleading, because he knows full well that the position of his government, led by the army and his ministry, supports humanitarian aid alongside various relief measures aimed at at least suspending violence in the region.

But is it true that the harsh economic conditions in Gaza do not affect the level of terror threats? That depends on who in the government one asks and how badly that person is doing in the polls. Only last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters during his European visit that escalation in the Strip is due to economic strangulation there, “plain and simple,” as he put it. Netanyahu, of course, blames Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for the crisis, because of Hamas’ “huge investments underground,” that is, the tunnels. But the outcome, according to the prime minister, is that “they are suffocating economically and have decided to crash into the fence plain and simple.”

Netanyahu also said: “We’re examining various possibilities for preventing a humanitarian collapse there. Israel is the one doing the most, and perhaps the only one taking action on this issue.” The last statement is not precise; international efforts are being called upon for a solution no less than Israeli ones, and in direct contrast to Israel, foreign governments are also investing their citizens’ money. But over the past few months Israel has indeed incessantly knocked on every door to raise money for assistance to Gaza. For example, in January, at an emergency conference in Brussels of the nations and organizations who donate to the Palestinians, Israel presented an emergency plan for humanitarian rehabilitation of Gaza and asked the international community to fund it. 

The Israeli plan to save Gaza, which was concocted under the leadership of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories – that is, by the military; that is, in Lieberman’s purview – includes a proposal to build a desalination plant, a sewage treatment plant, a garbage collection facility, improvement of the Erez Industrial Zone and other elements, at a total estimated cost of $1 billion. Israel proposed contributing knowhow and technology to the projects and to be more flexible regarding the import to Gaza of “dual-use” materials, which could also be used for terrorism. What this means is that there can be more flexibility in the closure when Israel wants there to be. The former Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, has said a few times in the past that “the problem is mainly Hamas’ and the Palestinian Authority’s, but Israel is greatly impacted by it. It is a further component in the IDF’s security concept.”   

The good news, if it can be called that, is that the Israeli public apparently also already understands the lie of politicians like Lieberman and his mimes. In a survey conducted recently by Israel's “Meet the Press,” 41 percent of Israelis agreed that Israel should provide “relief for the residents of the Gaza Strip,” in response to the question of what Israel should do regarding the Gaza Strip. That figure is compared to 28 percent who said that Israel should “conquer and topple the Hamas government,” 18 percent who called for “leaving the situation as it is,” and 11 percent who had no idea at all about an issue that so deeply impacts their lives and the lives of their neighbors. And this is the best response to the populist and inflammatory politicians: the public is not always stupid.