Israel proposes Cyprus port to serve Gaza

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman proposed building a port in Cyprus to serve Gaza that would be monitored by Israel to prevent arms-smuggling.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and his Cypriot counterpart agreed in principle over the weekend that Israel will rent a dedicated pier in Cyprus for cargo ships carrying goods destined for the Gaza Strip. A detailed plan is to be presented within three months, and implementation could follow fairly quickly.

Since the coastal enclave does not have a port that could accommodate such large ships, the merchandise would be unloaded onto smaller boats that could cross the Mediterranean to Cyprus in just a few hours. This would also enable Israel to monitor the containers to ensure that no illegal substances or arms are being smuggled to Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

According to Liberman’s office, the plan is contingent on Hamas releasing the bodies of two IDF soldiers held since Operation Protective Edge in 2014 – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – as well as two mentally unstable civilians who crossed the border into Gaza on their own, Avera Mengistu in 2014 and Hisham al-Sayed in 2015.

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Speaking to Army Radio Thursday, Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz said he was very happy with the plan, which he first proposed in 2014. He said he raised it again in the cabinet three months ago.

‘We can have our cake and eat it too’

“I think it’s the best solution so that we can have our cake and eat it too,” he said, while clarifying that inspectors from the Quartet as well as Israeli Navy representatives would not only check the cargo in Cyprus, but also be on the ferries so that nothing illegal could be added en route.

“This will also allow Gaza to export goods and for people to leave without it damaging Israel’s security, thereby connecting Gaza to the world,” he added.

Steinitz cautioned against linking the return of captured Israelis to the initiative.

“In principle, we make security and political issues contingent on such things, which sounds good, but this way we give the other side a lot of power… and sometimes it acts as a boomerang against us,” he stated. But if Israel wants to do it, he added, “it certainly should not be done in public.”

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Last Thursday, the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Hamas told Egyptian officials that it would make a “comprehensive deal” with Israel that would include returning the live civilians and soldiers’ bodies if Israel allows Gaza to have an airport and a sea port.

The current plan would be a much less expensive way to set up sea access for Gaza than Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz’s idea of building an artificial island off the coast that could serve as a port.