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Former Israeli Defense Minister and Ambassador to the U.S.


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Prof. Barry Rubin

Outstanding internationally-renowned Middle East analyst


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“Days after Egypt, with great fanfare, opened its border permanently with Gaza, new restrictions have been imposed on Palestinians who want to cross.… ‘Since Tuesday, we are witnessing complications that we cannot understand,’ said Salama Baraka, director of the crossing.… Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas deputy foreign minister, said that Hamas authorities had contacted the Egyptians for clarification.… Maan, a Palestinian news agency, quoted an Egyptian official as saying that [the new restrictions were imposed because] Hamas was sending in ineligible people, including some involved in smuggling.… (NY Times, June 2.)



Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2011


Our government’s concerns that the opening of the Rafah crossing by Egypt will increase the chances of arms smuggling into Gaza are legitimate. Its fears of terrorists exploiting the crossing are well-founded. But arms and terrorists are finding their way into Gaza anyway and Egypt’s move might, in the final analysis, constitute a less than unremittingly negative development for Israel, especially if Cairo maintains security control there and does not allow the unsupervised transfer of goods.

Egypt’s change of policy, reopening the crossing to pedestrian traffic after a four-year closure, is a reflection of Egypt’s new orientation in the wake of president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster rather than a shift designed to advance Israeli interests in any way.…

One major negative consequence of the reopening of the Rafah crossing is readily foreseeable. It will boost Hamas’s falling popularity vis-a-vis Fatah. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in March and April found that support for Hamas had fallen among those living in Gaza to only 34 percent compared to 75% giving a positive rating to Fatah.

By way of comparison, in 2007, 62% of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip rated Hamas favorably. The Israeli-imposed blockade, which many Gazans evidently realize is a direct result of Hamas’s belligerence against Israel, plainly contributed to this fall in popularity. Undermining Hamas was, in fact, the only express Israeli objective that was significantly achieved by the blockade, which also set as goals the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit and prevention of arms smuggling.

But while opening the Rafah crossing might strengthen Hamas, the move might also gradually lead to Israel’s complete “disengagement” from Gaza—six years after the formal Israeli attempt to disconnect itself. The painful and polarizing forced evacuation of thousands of law-abiding Jewish residents, accompanied by a complete military withdrawal, was undertaken by prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 with the specific goal of unloading the diplomatic liability caused by Israel’s “occupation” there.

Far from leading to the creation of a mini-Palestinian state there willing to live in peace and maintain correct diplomatic and economic relations with both Egypt and Israel, Gaza two years later was violently taken over by Hamas, and has continued to constitute a launching ground for terrorist attacks, Kassam rockets and mortar shells.

In response, Israel, together with Egypt, imposed a land, sea and air blockade. In the often distorted international perception, Israel, though not Egypt, was routinely depicted as an oppressor that had turned the entire Strip into a giant prison, with far too little emphasis placed on the self-evident security concerns that underpinned Israeli policy. Israel has been widely disparaged despite facilitating Gazans’ access to basic necessities, coordinating the day to day needs of residents there and working in conjunction with UNRWA, the UN’s World Food Program, the World Health Organization and other humanitarian organizations.

Now, with the reopening of the Rafah crossing, there is a path open to the original goal of disengagement—the complete ending of Israeli responsibility for Gaza, and the fostering of self-reliance there. As long as Hamas, an organization bent on the destruction of Israel, remains in power, the border between Israel and Gaza will remain sealed. But now, Gazans’ ties to the outside world can be rerouted through Cairo.

Despite the blockade, Hamas has managed to smuggle in outrageously large amounts of arms. In 2010 alone, hundreds of short range rockets passed through tunnels into Gaza, as did between 20 and 40 long-range rockets, about 1,000 mortar shells and several tons of high quality TNT, according to Shin Bet estimates. The reopening of the Rafah crossing to pedestrians is unlikely to drastically exacerbate that dire reality.

Meanwhile, the closure at both ends of the Strip had enabled Hamas to claim that Gaza’s citizens were suffering a humanitarian crisis, and led to controversies and clashes with “human rights” flotillas on the open seas—with particularly horrendous consequences in the case of the Mavi Marmara exactly a year ago. Now, one end of the Strip is more open, and the Gaza “prison” claims are more manifestly untenable.

Israel has already indicated a willingness to consider allowing credible international forces to inspect any future such flotillas. Better that Israel’s navy patrol Gaza’s shores as it does Lebanon’s and stops suspicious vessels such as the MV Francop—found in November 2009 to be carrying arms destined for Hezbollah.

This was not its aim, but the opening of the Rafah crossing removes any last justification for such flotillas. There was never a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and now its populace is no longer being denied access to the rest of the world either.


Eugene Kontorovich & Paula Kweskin
Jerusalem Post, June 1, 2011


This month, another flotilla is set to breach Israel’s lawful maritime blockade on Gaza. Organizers claim it will sail to the “occupied” Gaza Strip to deliver “much-needed supplies,” yet both premises are false. Earlier this year, the International Committee of the Red Cross declared there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Moreover, the proposition that Gaza remains occupied by Israel has recently been refuted by an unexpected source—a UN Security Council resolution.

A staple claim of Palestinian supporters is that Israel’s occupation of Gaza did not end with the military withdrawal and the accompanying uprooting of nearly 10,000 Jewish residents. The Goldstone Report relied on this argument, and it is widely echoed by international lawyers and the press.

This view has never had much to recommend it. Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations provides that a “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.” Similarly, the Geneva Conventions, even in the broadest interpretation urged by the International Committee of the Red Cross, require that ground forces exercise “control within” the territory.

Moreover, an occupying power must be able to provide all governmental functions—to run things inside the occupied territory, not simply patrol the borders. Yet the de facto government of Hamas rules Gaza without Israeli intervention.

The argument for occupation has been that since Israel maintains “absolute authority over Gaza’s airspace and territorial sea [it is] manifestly exercising governmental authority in these areas,” in the words of Prof. Iain Scobbie. Others claim that border control amounts to “effective control” of the interior. But prior blockades, like that of Cuba by president John F. Kennedy, were never considered occupations. Moreover, border controls are typical along every international frontier, even among the friendliest of nations. Nor does Israel control all of Gaza’s borders.… In the wake of Egyptian political changes, the Rafah border is now completely open, further hollowing the argument that it is Israel exercising control over entry to Gaza.

The recent UN Security Council resolution authorizing force against Libya provides an excellent experiment in whether the legal arguments widely made about Israel are also applied in parallel cases. In March, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 in response to Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on anti-government rebels. The resolution authorized military action, delineated a no-fly zone across all of Libya, froze Libyan assets, and authorized the extensive use of force against Libyan troops.

Yet Resolution 1793 specifically rules out any “occupation” of Libyan territory. This was not stray language. The prohibition of occupation has helped secure the support of several skeptical nations.

At the Council meeting, Lebanon’s delegate stressed that the resolution would not result in the occupation of “even an inch” of Libyan territory. So we now have confirmation from the Council that a broad embargo, no-fly zone and months of constant aerial bombardment do not constitute an “occupation.” Certainly these activities have considerable effect on Libya, and “control” much of what happens there. Obviously Israel’s much less comprehensive and invasive measures against Gaza do not constitute an occupation by this standard.

Of course, the Libya resolution proves nothing new; the arguments that Gaza remained occupied after 2005 were always quite surprising. The obviousness of the above principles when applied anywhere but to Israel should give pause to those who think that even a full withdrawal to pre-1967 lines will lead to Israel’s international legitimacy, or preclude the fabrication of new pretextual claims.

(Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at Northwestern University School of Law;
Paula Kweskin is a legal researcher.)


P. David Hornik
FrontPage, June 1, 2011


It was a year ago on Tuesday that Israeli naval commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara, one of a convoy of six ships that had sailed from Turkey with the aim of breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. The commandos, attacked with metal bars, clubs, and knives by a mob of jihadists from the terror-linked IHH organization, fought for their lives and killed nine of the assailants—sparking yet another round of international Israel-bashing and investigations.

Now, a year later, the same IHH is, along with the Free Gaza Movement, organizing another flotilla—and it’s supposed to set sail for Gaza toward the end of June.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which is connected to military intelligence, published an explosive expose on the new flotilla. IHH leader Bulent Yildirim and another senior figure in the organization, Huseyin Oruc, say this one will be much larger—numbering 15 ships, including the Mavi Marmara again, and a total of 1500 passengers.

As with last year’s flotilla, the non-Turkish contingent can be expected to consist of leftist-NGO and other Western fellow travelers of the jihad, largely under the Free Gaza Movement’s aegis. Yildirim says members of Arab parliaments and anti-Israeli “Jews from around the globe” will also be on board.

The IHH claims that this time none of the passengers will have weapons, and that it is prepared for UN or European observers to inspect the flotilla’s cargo. The Meir Amit Center expresses “skepticism,” noting that for the previous flotilla IHH also claimed that the luggage of the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara had been inspected by the Turkish authorities as they boarded the ship in Istanbul. In reality, the “inspection,” if it was indeed carried out, was meaningless, because many weapons were loaded aboard the ship, as was military equipment and tools for making improvised weapons.

Some other reasons for skepticism that this new flotilla will be a pacific one:

• Shaheeds. In its major propaganda campaign for the new flotilla, the IHH has been “glamoriz[ing] the memory of the nine shaheeds…killed aboard the Mavi Marmara [last year], and instilling hatred for Israel.” Yildirim has also “made various incendiary speeches in which he stressed IHH’s determination to proceed with the flotilla, even at the price of additional shaheeds.”

• A “surprise.” In speeches, IHH members have also warned Israel that there will be a “surprise” this time. The Meir Amit Center thinks this could refer to a plane being sent to Gaza. “In a speech [Yildirim] gave on April 7, 2011, at a memorial service for the…Mavi Marmara [operatives], he said that the Gaza Strip would also be reached by air” and that “the organization was in the process of acquiring a plane.”

• The nature of the IHH. As the Meir Amit Center noted in an earlier bulletin, the IHH is a radically anti-Western, Islamist group “which in the past provided support for the global jihad.” In a May 5 press conference with other Turkish Islamist organizations in an Istanbul suburb, the IHH denounced the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States. In a speech two months before the embarking of last year’s flotilla, Yildirim said: “the United States is killing Muslims.…NATO forces are killing Muslims.… Israel is killing Muslims…. A Muslim cannot be defeated by oppressors and infidels.… The day we agree to be the slaves of the West [is the day] we taste defeat.… If the owners of Al-Quds [Jerusalem] are Muslims, control of the world will be in Muslim hands.”

Israel is indeed not counting on any pacifism from the next flotilla. Israeli media have been reporting that Flotilla 13—the same naval-commando force that boarded the Mavi Marmara last year—has called up all of its reserves and been training intensively with the air force to confront the new threat. On Tuesday, it was further reported that Israel is preparing “surprises” of its own, and that—while the goal is to take over the ships nonviolently—“soldiers were under order to use force to neutralize armed danger and neutralize attackers if necessary.”

As Israeli chief of staff Benny Gantz noted, “The flotilla’s organizers want to provoke us, not to provide aid to Gaza. There is no humanitarian problem; hundreds of trucks of food and supplies enter Gaza every day.” Gaza’s situation was further eased by Egypt’s opening of the Rafah crossing this week, and the sole purpose of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is to stop weapons from reaching Hamas, the anti-Israeli terror organization that runs it and repeatedly shells Israeli communities.

Israel has been striving hard to drive those points home on the diplomatic front, and so far with some success. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked governments to discourage activists from launching the new flotilla, and the United States and the European Union have also come out against it.

And where is Turkey in all this? The answer is that Turkey is not only doing nothing to discourage the venture but is, in effect, the force behind it.

As the Meir Amit Center notes in the same expose, the “IHH and the flotilla project receive political, propaganda and logistical support from the Turkish government.” In a TV interview on May 21, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “Turkey will give the necessary response to any repeated act of provocation by Israel on the high seas.” There could be no clearer endorsement of the new flotilla than that open threat.

If the expanded, 15-ship flotilla sails as planned, then, the stakes will be high. Turkey, which not long ago had close strategic ties with Israel, has under the Islamic AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan been moving steadily toward hostility. With Israel also facing threats from civilian marches and a hostile post-Mubarak Egypt, its immediate environs are potentially explosive. Strong Western backing for Israel in defending itself against this second Turkish flotilla would send the right signal of resolve against the mounting jihadist tide. But it is hard to be optimistic.


Shlomo Shpiro
Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2011


A year after the failure of the Turkish flotilla to breach the Gaza blockade and the ensuing violence, Israel may face a similar attempt again. But recent developments in the region mean that a new flotilla may be met with different reactions on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Four major developments over the past year have decreased the political threat posed by a new flotilla.

The first is the simple fact that, despite much publicity and several announcements, no flotilla has sailed since the first was blocked exactly a year ago on May 31.

While the organizers’ rhetoric remains as viciously anti-Israel as before, the number of volunteers actually willing to brave the IDF’s reaction was so far much smaller than the IHH hoped for and not enough for an impressive show of force. The IDF had a year to analyze and learn lessons from the last incident…and prepare new and innovative methods to stop any ship. The novelty factor of such a flotilla is now smaller since it lost the surprise effect, while doomsday prophesies about adverse world reactions to Israel’s stopping of the flotilla quickly faded against the dramatic pictures from Tahrir Square and the streets of Syria.

The second development is Turkey’s declining status in the Arab world as a result of the Arab Spring revolutions.… The ousting of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments, NATO’s attacks on Libya and the riots in Syria could bring similar demonstrations in Turkey against its radicalizing regime. By encouraging the first flotilla, Turkish authorities may have bitten off more than they could chew: While official European and American political reactions were mild, the Turkish economy is deteriorating—[Turkey’s trade deficit with the European Union, its largest trade partner, more than doubled in the previous year, from 8 billion to over 19 billion euros, while inflation soared to almost 9 percent]—as more firms are reluctant to invest in a country now perceived as increasingly radical and unpredictable.… European leaders fear that further radicalization in Turkey could bring similar radicalization of the large Turkish minorities inside the EU, especially in Germany. [This alone may induce the EU] to discreetly signal [to] Ankara the need to moderate its anti-Israel rhetoric.

The third development is the expanding strategic alliance between Israel and Greece. Under previous governments, Greece traditionally took a pro-Palestinian line, but this position is rejected by a younger generation of Greeks who view Israel, with its economic success and flourishing hi-tech industries, as an example to follow.

Over the past two years, Greece and Israel came closer than ever before, with cooperation extending from intelligence and security to the scientific and economic fields. Greek society suffers greatly under a massive austerity plan, higher taxes and a bureaucracy which throttles innovation and economic expansion. Sick of their ailing economy and IMF meddling, many Greeks see the Israeli model of economic growth as the one to emulate. While the Greek-Israeli alliance is not aimed specifically against Turkey, it does present Ankara with a new variable in its relations with Israel.

The fourth development is the recent official opening of the Gaza-Egypt border. Contrary to initial Israeli reactions, this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. While the opening of the border has no security significance, since heavy weapons and Hamas activists are regularly moved through tunnels under the border, it undermines the main ideological argument of the flotilla planners that Gaza is under siege. The border crossing will serve as a societal “safety valve” to allow ordinary Palestinians to visit families or travel for business abroad. In addition, the spirit of democracy and peaceful revolution may seep into Gaza from other Arab capitals.

The Israeli government should bear these developments in mind when formulating its reactions to a new flotilla.

(Shlomo Shpiro is deputy head of the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University
and senior research fellow at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies.)