(by Joshua Mitnick, WashingtonTimes.com) – TEL AVIV – Israel began scaling back fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip and closed a key crossing for humanitarian provisions – sanctions seen by observers as a last-ditch attempt to squeeze the economy of the coastal strip before a more aggressive military offensive is ordered.
Israeli defense officials said they plan to cut Gaza’s gasoline shipments by as much as 11 percent, part of the implementation of a decision last month to declare Gaza an enemy entity. The step is being taken in retaliation for continuing rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.
“The purpose is to be able to exercise Israel’s right of self-defense,” said a government spokesman who declined to be identified, “and to send a firm message to those wishing to attack us that we will not tolerate these attacks, and we will take necessary means to defend [our] citizens.”
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will hold deliberations today on how to defend the decision in Israel’s Supreme Court, where human rights groups are expected to charge that the move violates international law.
Palestinians and Israeli left-wingers have denounced the sanctions as collective punishment of a civilian population that is not involved in the rocket attacks.
Sources at the Israeli Electric Corp. said they have received no instructions yet from the Israeli defense establishment about cutting power supplies to Gaza. But a Palestinian fuel official said supplies were already been reduced by 30 percent.
“This is a serious warning to the people of the Gaza Strip. Their lives are now in danger,” said Ahmed Ali, deputy director of Gaza’s Petroleum Authority, which distributes Israeli fuel shipments to private Palestinian companies.
Speaking to the Associated Press, he said, “The hospitals, water pumping station and sewage will now be affected by the lack of fuel.”
Israel’s government is under increasing pressure to silence the Gaza rocket launchers, and cutting off fuel and electricity is seen as a way to show firmness against the Palestinians.
It is considered unlikely that Israel will order an all-out offensive in Gaza before a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference scheduled for next month in Annapolis.
Though Israeli spokesmen say it is not in the country’s interest to create a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the army closed the Sufa crossing, used to allow dozens of supply shipments into Gaza per day. Only one commercial crossing remains open between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
In the past, Israeli officials have said they hoped economic pressure on the Palestinians would demoralize the public and stir discontent toward their leaders. But Israeli analysts said they doubted the new sanctions will stop the steady stream of crudely made short-range rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
The move is instead meant for public consumption in Israel and abroad to prove that, in case a more aggressive offensive is ordered, Israel had exhausted all of the available options.
“I don’t think it has a chance of working. Pressure by means of economic sticks and carrots by and large has failed,” said Yossi Alpher, a former government adviser and the co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian opinion journal BitterLemons.org.
“It should be obvious by now that you’re not going to starve them into submission. At the end of the day, the solution is political not economic.”
The decision to stop the supply of electricity and fuel shows Gaza’s continuing dependence on Israel more than two years after Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip.
Analysts said cutting off the Gaza Strip economically is a less costly way to pressure the Palestinians than sending in masses of troops and tanks.
“Many soldiers will be killed and so will many innocent Palestinians, because the [Israel Defense Forces] will employ a massive artillery bombardment,” wrote Avi Isacharoff, a Palestinian affairs expert for the Ha’aretz newspaper.
“This will be a ‘dirty war,’ very aggressive, that will have scenes of destruction similar to southern Lebanon in 2006.”
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2. a) What sanctions has
Israel placed against the Gaza Strip?
b) What do observers think Israel is
attempting to do by imposing the sanctions?
3. What reason did an
anonymous Israeli government spokesman give for cutting gas shipments to
4. Why have Palestinians
and Israeli left-wingers denounced the sanctions?
b) Do you agree with this
reasoning? Explain your answer.
5. What services in Gaza
will be affected by the lack of fuel?
6. Analysts do not
believe that the sanctions will cause the Palestinians to stop shooting rockets
at Israeli towns. What is viewed as the real reason for the
7. Do you think that the
Israeli government is justified in imposing these sanctions on the Gaza Strip?
Explain your answer.
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