Analysis: An incompetent bungle from start to finish

The government's performance in the matter of Gaza sanctions is a grand failure.

gaza fuel 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza fuel 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Instead of dispersing the Winograd Committee after it publishes its final report on the Second Lebanon War, perhaps we should ask it to stick around and start investigating the government's bungling of its plans to impose sanctions on Gaza to stop the Kassam and mortar attacks. An investigation is warranted, but not because the sanctions have failed to stop the terrorist attacks. That was pretty much a foregone conclusion. It is warranted, however, because it is becoming uncomfortably clear that the government had little, if any, idea of what it was doing. After making a dramatic, albeit meaningless, an-nouncement in September that it was declaring Gaza a "hostile territory," the cabinet declared on October 28 that it would cut the exports of regular diesel, industrial diesel and gasoline - paid for by the European Union - and reduce Israel's direct supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip. More than two months later, it has restored the cuts it made in regular and industrial diesel to pre-October 28 levels and has been unable to implement the electricity cuts at all. If we were to assess the government's performance on the basis of results alone, we would have to mark it a grand failure. But it is worse than that. Much of the failure has to do with egregious mistakes made by the government itself. First of all, it must be made clear that Gaza receives its electricity supply from three sources. Its sole power station - until the reduction in industrial diesel - produced 60-65 megawatts, while Israel currently supplies 120 megawatts and Egypt 17. As a result of the sanctions, Gaza now produces 45 megawatts. Thus, the cut reduced the total electricity supply in Gaza by about 10 percent, and the supply of electricity by the Gaza power plant by 30%. On December 25, the High Court of Justice blasted the state for providing incorrect information about the amount of electricity it currently supplies to Gaza. The state had informed the court that it intended to cut electricity on four main power lines by 5% each. Soon afterward, it had to shamefacedly tell the court that it had been supplying much less than capacity on two of the power lines for the past several years. Now comes another apparent bungle. On Thursday, the state told the court it had decided, without giving any explanation, to restore the industrial diesel supply to pre-sanction levels. Two months earlier, on November 1, it had breezily explained to the High Court why the 20% cut it had introduced would not cause humanitarian distress in Gaza. It wrote that until some time ago, the Gaza power company had supplied 55 megawatts of electricity. Recently, it continued, the company had added another turbine, increasing output to 63 megawatts. The state calculated that the supply cut would bring the output level back "at the most" to 55 megawatts. For one thing, the state neglected to tell the court that until Israeli warplanes destroyed all the turbines in Gaza in June 2006, the Gaza power company had produced 80 megawatts of electricity. For another, it has turned out that the cut in industrial diesel introduced on October 28 has reduced the electricity output to 45 megawatts, not 55. Furthermore, according to Palestinian affidavits submitted to the High Court, this has caused serious damage to vital services in Gaza, including to hospitals and the water supply. There was another flaw in the government's thinking on this matter. It rationalized the cuts on the grounds that fuel was used by terrorists to produce rockets and mortar shells. If the supply were decreased, the government in Gaza could decide to whom to distribute the fuel. Thus, it could prevent humanitarian distress if it wanted to. However, it turns out the industrial diesel fuel is used exclusively by the power station and cannot be used for anything else. Thus, by reducing the supply, Israel was creating an electricity shortage in addition to the shortage already existing since June 2006, and in addition to the electricity cutback of its own supply that it still hopes to impose. Apparently, after making its dramatic announcement on October 28, the state has come to the conclusion that cutting industrial diesel is, in fact, causing harm to crucial humanitarian needs of the civilian population, something it had promised the court it would not do. Too bad it didn't come to this conclusion before, rather than after, it imposed the sanction. Too bad not only for Gaza but also for Israel. All the government has managed to do is to arouse the ire of the international community, when, in the end, it rescinded the sanction anyway.