PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman cite inability to guarantee effective security checks – But IDF, Shin Bet find no security reason not to build port, say diplomatic sources – Foreign and Finance Ministry sources call port a suitable solution.
By Shlomo CesanaISRAEL HAYOM
A proposed artificial island and seaport off the Gaza Strip coast appears to be sinking. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have spoken out against Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s plan for the port, citing an inability to guarantee goods and people entering and exiting the port are monitored and checked.
In a response to a question from Israel Hayom earlier this week about the proposed port, Netanyahu called security checks at the port “problematic.”
Lieberman, siding with Netanyahu on the issue, said he is “firmly” opposed to the creation of a port.
“We cannot guarantee effective security checks,” he said.
However, contrary to Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s stated positions, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security agency maintain there is no security reason not to build the island, senior diplomatic sources say. Sources at the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry also believe that an offshore seaport is an appropriate solution from a diplomatic and financial perspective.
Katz recently called for the creation of an interministerial team to advance the project, but his request was denied by the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet.
The Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, is under permanent naval and aerial blockade to prevent the entry of weapons and terrorists. Israel regularly allows the entry of goods after they pass a security check at the Ashdod Port. Hamas prohibits Gaza residents from leaving the strip through Jordan, as part of its attempts to exert international pressure on Israel as well as Egypt, which also enforces a blockade on Gaza.
Katz proposed the creation of an 8-kilometer (5-mile) artificial island off the coast of Gaza three years ago, so that Gazans would no longer be dependent on Israel. According to the proposal, the estimated $5 billion dollar cost of construction would come from foreign investments, and would cover the building of a seaport, airport, staff areas, hotels and advanced facilities for energy production and desalination. The island would be connected to the mainland by a bridge, similar to the ones at the Hadera and Ashkelon power plants, that could be closed off if necessary for security reasons.