JERUSALEM — An objective assessment of the blockade imposed by Israel in mid-2007 on the Gaza Strip leads to one conclusion: It totally failed to achieve its declared objectives.
It did not prompt Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians to blame their Iranian-backed Hamas regime for the consequent shortages and thereby bring about its overthrow.
Hamas and the assortment of extremist groups there still launch missiles, rockets and mortars at targets inside Israel.
In fact, the blockade has become a convenient reason to assail Israel in the international arena, inspiring sympathizers with the Palestinian cause to organize media-oriented campaigns against the Jewish state.
So the plan to send a second international flotilla to Gaza one year after the first one ended in the interception several of its vessels by the Israeli navy and the death of eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish-American would never have been hatched had the blockade been lifted in the interim.
Nor would the diplomatic crisis between the Turkish and Israeli governments over the nine fatalities have erupted had the clashes not taken place.
Then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the blockade shortly after the kidnapping by Palestinian gunmen of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, supposedly to generate popular pressure within Gaza for Hamas to agree to terms for his release. But after five years of secret, though intermittent, negotiations, there is still no deal.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who played a leading role in putting the blockade into effect, has lacked the political courage to admit that the idea has been a dismal failure. Nor has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who inherited the blockade from Olmert and now bears the ultimate responsibility for its senseless perpetuation, has not exercised his prerogative to call it off — something that should have been done at least two years ago.
By then, the Palestinians had already shown that they could overcome the economic and operational hardships the blockade was supposed to impose. They dug dozens of tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula to the Gaza Strip through which almost every product, commodity, vehicle or machine Gazans sought could be delivered.
In a detailed report on the current situation in the Strip, Ethan Bronner of The New York Times presents ample evidence that the tunnels have achieved their purpose.
Bronner reports that more than 100 tunnels currently serve as conduits for the Strip’s imports. He explains the impressive presence of luxury automobiles such as late-model BMW’s to the fact that they, too, can be transferred from Sinai to Gaza underground.
Tunnel building and maintenance have become big business for the local Palestinians, transforming many of them into millionaires.
From a maritime standpoint, the Egyptians have opened their main Sinai port at El Arish, barely five miles south of the Strip, as an alternative off-loading point for Gaza-bound supplies. It is a logical alternative if the would-be blockade runners do not want to be escorted or towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Insofar as the ostensibly well-meaning blockade runners are concerned, most of the limitations imposed during the blockade’s initial stages have been lifted anyway and there no longer is any significant interference by Israel in normal trade between Gaza and the rest of the world.
This proves that the self-styled idealists aboard the “Audacity of Hope” and other ships en route to Gaza who are liable to get into another showdown with the Israeli navy could be termed provocateurs rather than maritime heroes.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)