Photographer: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Minister Backs Plan for Gaza Island Port

  • Gaza humanitarian crisis is Israel's biggest danger: Galant
  • Palestinians want port to end strip's economic isolation

As head of the southern command, Yoav Galant led Israel’s army in a three-week war with Hamas from late 2008 that scorched parts of Gaza. Now, as a minister who attends the security cabinet, he wants Israel to do what it can to rebuild the strip’s dire economy.

QuickTake Hamas

Among the ideas he supports is building an artificial island off Gaza complete with a seaport that would ease the blockade on its 1.85 million people. “The biggest danger to Israel is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said Galant, minister of construction and housing. “If Gaza had the ability to bring ships, and goods, without posing a security problem, that is in everybody’s interest,” he said in an interview outside Tel Aviv.

Galant is one of a handful of past and present military officials backing a port for Gaza, citing the risk of Palestinian anger propelling Israel into another war with the Hamas group that controls the impoverished territory. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon remains skeptical of the idea, opposing measures that would relinquish Israel’s control over merchandise coming into Gaza, Ha’aretz reported last week.

Weapons Concerns

For Palestinians, a port in Gaza is seen as a crucial step in improving their economy, which suffers from more than 40 percent unemployment, and in easing the commercial and political isolation imposed by both Israel and Egypt. Restrictions on imports have hampered the strip’s reconstruction efforts following a 2014 war, the International Monetary Fund said in a report last year. Israel limits the flow of goods into Gaza because of concerns that Hamas would smuggle in weapons.

Given the significance of any port development, the Palestinians want full control over it. 

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, told journalists last week that a developing rapprochement between Turkey and Israel -- an effort to repair ties ruptured by a 2010 Israeli naval raid on a Turkish aid ship heading for Gaza -- may include the building of the seaport. Hamas would offer in exchange a truce with Israel.

Major General Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian territories, denied on Friday that the Turkey negotiations include the construction of a port, according to Ynet.

Special Forces

The port idea was originally floated a few years ago by current Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz. A retired major general, Galant analyzes the proposal with the insight of an experienced soldier: While a port built onshore would be impossible to supervise and could jeopardize Israel’s security, an artificial island would ensure Israel has full control over goods coming through, he said.

“Israel could blow up the bridge with one explosion without destroying the port itself,” said Galant, who also previously commanded the Israeli Navy special forces unit known as Shayetet 13. “Anybody who shouldn’t be there won’t be there and Israel will be able to supervise what comes in an out in an efficient way.”

Yet Galant’s endorsement is important for another reason besides his security expertise. He’s the second highest-ranking member of the Kulanu party headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a group that’s a key partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Galant was named chief of staff by former Defense Minister Ehud Barak in 2010 but the nomination was canceled after months of controversy due to allegations that he had seized public lands near his home. After retiring from the army, Galant joined Kahlon’s party to help beef up its security credentials.

Homes, Guns

Reducing home prices was Kahlon’s chief campaign pledge and as housing minister, Galant is seeking to ramp up construction in Israel, where a shortage of apartments has pushed up home prices by more than 100 percent since 2007. Galant is overseeing several plans to increase the supply of cheaper homes, such as one that sells land at subsidized prices to contractors provided they market apartments at controlled prices.

He’s also pushing ahead with a proposal to use an amnesty and the subsequent threat of fines to collect unlawfully held weapons from the country’s Arab population, an issue that has gained prominence since Israeli Arab Nashat Milhem killed three people in a Tel Aviv shooting on New Year’s day.

The idea “benefits both Arabs and Jews, since most crimes carried out by Arabs with illegal weapons are inflicted on other Arabs,” he said.

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