After expending 700 rockets last month in attacks that killed four Israeli civilians, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are busy replenishing their arsenals. The Iron Dome defense system brought down hundreds of those rockets, yet it cannot seem to pierce the assumption of so many foreign observers that Israel’s blockade of Gaza provokes the rocket attacks, not vice versa.
The Wall Street Journal recently described Hamas and PIJ rearmament efforts as part of a “pressure campaign to ease Israel’s punishing blockade on the Gaza Strip.” Shortly after the rocket attacks ended last month, the Associated Press called the blockade “a driving factor in the three wars … as Hamas demands an easing of the closure in exchange for a halt in rocket fire.” The New York Times said Hamas called off the attacks after it “sought and apparently received renewed assurances of a loosening of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.” At least the Times labeled its reporting as news analysis, not just pure fact.
A brief look at history helps to show why it is entirely backward to treat Israel’s actions as the cause of attacks. Instead, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from amassing weapons.
From 2001 until 2005, when Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, Palestinian militants fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. The threat was clear, but when Israeli forces departed, there was no blockade. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections and was set to control the Palestinian government, yet still no blockade. In June 2007, Hamas violently ejected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces from Gaza. Still no blockade.
At this point, however, Israel decided to restrict the entry of vessels into Gaza’s territorial waters, yet the blockade only began in January 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, the first major Hamas-Israel conflict. After years of coping with Hamas’ persistent provocations, including ongoing rocket and mortar fire, Israel determined that it was too dangerous to allow the terrorist group to rule over Gaza and have unrestricted access to the sea.
Through its blockade and other preventive measures, Israel has prevented numerous attempts by Hamas and its allies to smuggle weapons and other illicit materials into Gaza. Notably, in March 2014, Israel intercepted the merchant ship “Klos-C” laden with dozens of advanced missiles with a range of up to 200 kilometers en route from Iran.
Activists have also attempted to breach Israel’s blockade, most notably with the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Turkish activists from the terror-linked group IHH violently resisted Israeli attempts to enforce the blockade, resulting in ten deaths. This incident prompted a United Nations panel of inquiry led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer. It concluded that Israel’s blockade was legal and that “Israel was entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent the influx of weapons into Gaza.”
Israel has enforced its blockade according to Article 51 of the United Nations charter, which affords nations the right to self-defense. As legally required, Israel issued a “Notice to Mariners” through appropriate channels to declare the duration and location of the blockade. Additionally, Israel’s blockade has been impartial; it has stopped any vessel attempting to enter the area while allowing free access to nearby ports. The Palmer report also noted that Israel abides by the prohibition on imposing a blockade to starve or collectively punish a civilian population.
While it imposes a blockade in Gaza, Israel facilitates the entry of tens of thousands of tons of goods into Gaza weekly. Israel also supplies Gaza with fuel and electricity. In 2014, in the middle of Operation Protective Edge, which Hamas provoked with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, Israel Electric Corporation employees repaired power lines supplying Gaza with electricity after Hamas rocket attacks had damaged them.
Smuggling weapons and dual-use items into Gaza remain a significant issue. Israel prevents thousands of smuggling attempts into Gaza annually. For instance, Israel’s former chief of staff revealed that Israel had thwarted the illicit transfer of 15,000-20,000 rockets into Gaza. And in May and June 2019, Israel announced that it had prevented two significant smuggling operations.
Attacks on Israel stemming from Gaza occurred long before the blockade and would continue without it. Hamas remains committed to destroying Israel and any Palestinian factions that would make peace with the Jewish state. Blaming Israel’s defensive blockade for attacks on the Jewish state confuses cause and effect and ignores Hamas’ true aims.
David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow David on Twitter @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD.