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Repercussions from the Ashdod Port Attack

15 March 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Sundays bombing in the Ashdod port, leaving ten killed and dozens injured caught Israels security forces by surprise. A general attack warning was in effect for the port area, but nothing specific. The port is a particularly sensitive target as it serves strategic naval and commercial interests. Its storage facilities include tons of dangerous materials, especially chemicals, which if released would be considered a mega terror attack. In short, the attack is being considered an major security failure.

There are those, especially from the Right, who claim that the entire fence system does not work since the two bombers originated from Gaza. Claims are being made that the terrorists tunneled under the barrier, although this has not been substantiated. The more likely scenario involves the two using false worker Ids, and picking up their bombs elsewhere. But at the moment, nothing is for sure, except that no one claimed the fence could be hermetically sealed. The fact that for three and a half years there were no cross fence attacks speaks of a certain tactical success.

The Ashdod attack added fuel the political fires burning. Likud Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is against a Gaza pullout, as advocated by PM Ariel Sharon, if there is no reciprocity on the other side, meaning a Palestinian commitment to stop terrorism. Left wing political activist Yossi Beilin says the same, but expects a full agreement on all issues (borders, refugees, security, etc.) while trusting the Palestinian Authority to uphold their end of the deal. Sounds reasonable, except everyone knows that PA Chairman Yasir Arafat has no intention of stopping terrorism, even were he to commit himself to such an agreement. He would only increase attacks and raise his demands.

Vice-Premier Ehud Olmert, Labor MK Haim Ramon and Shinui faction leader Tommy Lapid all support Sharons unilateral disengagement from Gaza, as do close to two thirds of Israels Jewish population. The Israeli political center does not expect the Palestinians to keep their word on any agreement and are saying as much.

The question arises as what to do after the Gaza disengagement; should Israel completely disconnect? Joint economic ventures, such as the Erez Industrial Zone, should be allowed to continue to operate, while canceling the privileges allotted to Palestinian workers to cross into Israel. This could be the true litmus test, should the Palestinians enforce security on their side of the border, there could be more joint projects and expansion of existing investments.

However, should terrorism uproot these attempts at cooperation, with individual Israelis invested in the Zones pulling out, Israel would close its borders to all trade from these areas, and completely disconnect from Gaza in every manner. If terrorism were to cease completely and the zones prove overwhelmingly successful, Israel could consider allowing Palestinian workers to find employment in Israel once again.

With the recent joint terror attacks by Fatah (supported by the PA) and the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas and Jihad, one can expect a resounding failure of any attempt at cooperation. But this does not exempt Israel from working to enforce maximum security while giving these joint economic ventures one last chance to succeed.