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The new maritime aid corridor poses a major threat to Gaza and Egypt

March 27, 2024 at 10:20 am

US President Joe Biden speaks at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, on January 5, 2024. [Kyle Mazza – Anadolu Agency]

US President Joe Biden revealed plans earlier this month for the US Army to build a floating port on the coast of Gaza that will enable the distribution of much-needed humanitarian aid brought in by sea along a new maritime corridor between Cyprus and the Palestinian enclave. An estimated two million meals a day are needed after Israel’s military offensive has created an entirely man-made famine in Gaza.

The maritime corridor idea is not new. Similar schemes have been proposed on earlier occasions over the past ten years or so, only to be blocked by the occupation state every time.

After the Israeli offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza in 2014, and with the territory being under a comprehensive Israeli-led siege since 2006, Egypt mediated in discussions about opening up a maritime aid corridor. The proposal revolved around a 10-year truce and the reopening of the small Gaza Port used by fishing boats, which is up to five metres deep in places. With a 300-metre-long jetty, and a 700m-long entrance channel, it was feasible that the port could accommodate aid vessels from abroad. Israel rejected the idea.

A Qatari initiative reintroduced the idea in 2018, with the aim of breaking the Israeli siege, allowing humanitarian aid to enter the enclave and operating the port with collaboration between Israel, Egypt and Qatar. Israel rejected the idea.

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However, it seems that things are different this time. The President of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, announced on 9 November last year at a humanitarian aid conference in Paris a proposal to establish a maritime corridor to transport aid to Gaza from Cyprus by sea. The proposal envisaged the aid being subject to security inspection in Larnaca before being loaded onto ships and taken to Gaza. Aid would get to Gaza without having to go through the Rafah Border Crossing with neighbouring Egypt, or via the occupation state.

Western leaders rushed to support the proposal. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed Washington’s support. This was followed by EU approval and French President Emmanuel Macron announcing his support for the project. Moreover, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also welcomed the idea.

The Israeli foreign ministry made an unusual announcement on 19 December that the occupation government was discussing the “operating” of a corridor between Tel Aviv, Gaza and Cyprus. The next day, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced his support for such a corridor. Cohen said that it would be subject to security inspection coordinated by Israel, and thanked Cyprus for what he called an important initiative.

At its meeting on 27 December, though, the Palestinian Council of Ministers announced its rejection of the idea of a maritime corridor between Israel and Cyprus. The Council stated that it would entail demographic risks to the Palestinians imposed by Israel’s political agenda. It called for humanitarian aid to be allowed to enter Gaza freely through the usual land crossings. The maritime corridor, said the Council, would be a disaster for the Palestinian people.

Despite this, work on the corridor continued. Cyprus tested a screening mechanism on 1 January, sending 87 tonnes of British aid to Gaza.

According to Israel Today, the Israeli Shin Bet domestic security agency has been developing a comprehensive inspection system for aid shipments to ensure that they do not contain weapons that could be used by the Hamas resistance movement. The newspaper explained that a new pier was being built on the northern coast of Gaza to accommodate aid ships from Cyprus, where they would be inspected. Aid would then be transferred to smaller vessels able to navigate in the shallower water further along the Gaza coast.

For Gaza and the people of occupied Palestine, this maritime corridor looks like the final nail in the coffin of the Palestinian cause.

The main goal is for Gaza to turn into another West Bank governed and controlled completely by Israel and subject to the military occupation’s conditions on the land, the sea and in the air.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that, “The [new] port can facilitate the exit of the Palestinians from Gaza. There is no obstacle to the Palestinians leaving the Gaza Strip apart from the unwillingness of other countries to accept them.” As far as he is concerned, it seems, the route will help Israel to displace Palestinians, as has been the wish since long before 7 October. If he goes ahead and invades Rafah, and this is followed by Israel’s destruction or control of the Philadelphi corridor on the border with Egypt, it will mean that Gaza will be completely suffocated and cut off from the world. Gaza’s only possible windows on the world — by sea, by air and by land — will be controlled by Israel in every way. No person, ship or goods will enter or leave the Palestinian territory except with the permission and supervision of the settler-colonial state with US coordination. Life will become much harder — if that’s even possible — for the Palestinians in Gaza.

Moreover, the maritime corridor will cause Egypt to lose its strategic advantage regarding the Palestinian issue. Like other countries, it will be politically and practically remote from events in occupied Palestine.

The former director of Israeli spy agency Mossad, Yossi Cohen, stressed in the first weeks of Israel’s latest and ongoing military offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza the need to disengage from the territory economically; to cancel the idea of crossings into the Gaza Strip, including the Rafah Crossing; and rely solely on the maritime route. This takes Egypt out of the equation completely. Indeed, it places the republic under the immediate threat of a far-right Israeli government, which has long coveted the Sinai Peninsula to fulfil Zionist ambitions and create “Greater Israel” from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Egypt will lose out on trade with the Gaza Strip, and the cities of Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid will suffer economically. The former Vice President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Mohamed Al-Masry, said on 18 October last year that the Israeli offensive had damaged trade between Egypt and Palestine, which had a value of nearly $500 million in 2022-2023.

US military aid that Egypt has received since the signing of 1979 Camp David Agreement will be reviewed. This threatens US-Egyptian relations and raises many questions about Egypt’s strategic value with regard to protecting US interests in the region, especially the security of Israel.

On the day that Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his regime in Egypt leave office, the republic might wake up to the fact that its national security has been compromised by the closure of the Rafah Border Crossing and the presence of an extreme right-wing government on the other side of the border. That’s the scenario that we are looking at with the opening of this maritime corridor between Cyprus and Gaza, controlled by the apartheid state of Israel.

The Egyptian government should now reject the idea of this corridor and prevent Israel from carrying out a ground operation in Rafah. It must open the Rafah Crossing immediately to allow the entry of aid by land, and do everything possible to help the Palestinians in Gaza to survive and prevent their displacement anywhere and everywhere by land or sea.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 23 March 2024

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