Bennett orders IDF to conduct feasibility study on artificial Gaza island plan
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Bennett orders IDF to conduct feasibility study on artificial Gaza island plan

PM gives go-ahead to establish teams to work on project, which aims to ease conditions in Strip while maintaining Israel’s security control

New Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on November 13, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry
New Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on November 13, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has thrown his support behind an initiative to construct an artificial island port off the coast of Gaza, ordering the IDF to conduct a feasibility study into the project, Channel 12 reported on Saturday.

The concept, which was proposed by then-transportation and intelligence minister Israel Katz in 2017, envisions the establishment of an eight-square-kilometer (three-square-mile) artificial island linked to Gaza by a five-kilometer (three-mile) causeway that could, if necessary, be severed from the mainland by means of a drawbridge.

The plan seeks to alleviate conditions in the Strip while maintaining Israel’s security control.

Gaza has been under blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Hamas terror group seized power in 2007. UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to keep Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, from obtaining weapons or materials to make them. Gaza-based terror groups led by Hamas have fought three wars against Israel since 2008.

On Saturday, Channel 12 reported that in light of the recent elimination of Gaza-based Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Ata and the relative quiet in Gaza since the most recent round of fighting, in which Hamas largely stood on the sidelines, Bennett instructed IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi to carry out a security feasibility study to examine the possibility of establishing an airport on the proposed island.

Bennett, Channel 12 reported, sees the plan as useful leverage in dealing with Hamas in reaching a modus vivendi and in negotiating for the release of Israeli captives held in Gaza.

The report came the day after weapons were fired at Israel from the Strip, setting off sirens, and hours after the Israel Defense Forces said it launched retaliatory airstrikes against Hamas in Gaza.

For his part, Katz, who has since become foreign minister, said he received Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s go-ahead to establish joint working teams between the ministries of defense and foreign affairs and the National Security Council.

“For years, I have been promoting the floating island initiative… as a singular solution,” Katz tweeted on Saturday.

“This week I met Defense Minister Bennett, who, unlike his predecessors, expressed his support for promoting the initiative. I updated Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I hope that we can go ahead soon.”

Then-transportation and intelligence minister Israel Katz at a press conference held at the Transportation Ministry regarding the creation of an artificial island off the Gaza coast, which would contain a port, power and water desalination plants, and an airport, April 5, 2017 (Miriam Alstir/Flash90)

According to Katz, the island — which would house desalination facilities for clean water and an electricity plant as well as a freight harbor and an area for container storage — would take five years to build and mark the completion of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

It would be internationally financed and Israel would control security around it and in the port.

Katz’s proposal ran into strong opposition from then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman, who blocked a cabinet initiative to construct the island in June 2017. Several ministers, including Bennett, were said to have supported the plan at the time but Liberman voiced opposition on security grounds, saying he did not believe goods passing through the island could be properly vetted to ensure no weapons are smuggled into Gaza.

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