'There's No Humanitarian Crisis' in Gaza, Israeli Defense Minister Says, Contradicting Army Chief

No rehabilitation of Gaza without demilitarization, Lieberman says, despite warnings from defense officials

'There's no humanitarian crisis' in Gaza, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, contradicting army, during meeting with his party Feb 5. 2018
Emil salman

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman addressed the situation in Gaza on Monday, saying there was no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, a claim that contradicts those voiced by the Israeli army only one day ago.

"The economic state is complicated and must be dealt with, but there's no humanitarian crisis," Lieberman told members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party.

To really understand the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

This statement stands in stark contrast with the Israeli security system assessment, and contradicts statements made recently by Israel Defense Forces chief, who warned the Israeli government on Sunday that the Gaza Strip is in the midst of a severe humanitarian crisis.

According to Lieberman, "Since yesterday, we are witnessing an outpour of information, and mainly misinformation, into all the media outlets regarding the Gaza Strip we have no intention of initiating military action in Gaza, and it's good that Hamas leadership is panicking."

>> Israeli military chief: Gaza on verge of collapse, bringing war closer in 2018 <<

Lieberman added that "as long as there's no progress regarding the [Israeli] captives and missing persons, we can't move forward with all sorts of initiatives for [helping] the Strip. As far as its rehabilitation, it can only be on one condition – demilitarization [of Gaza]."

IDF 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.

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.

A Palestinian boy walks holding a bag of bread down a street in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza strip on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB
SAID KHATIB/AFP