President Barack Obama has announced that the U.S. will convene an international conference to stem arms flow to Gaza.
Next week, the representatives from the U.S., E.U., Israel and possibly Egypt will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, for in-depth discussion of arms smuggling from Sinai into Gaza at the conference organized by the president.
This conference follows a commitment made by European nations and the U.S. as part of the January 16 anti-smuggling accord that was signed between former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Mr. Obama’s announcement came the same day the U.S. Navy announced it had released an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea that had been sailing with arms for Gaza. This action made the problem of arms smuggling even clearer.
Weapons of various kinds were found onboard the Cypriot-flagged, Iranian-owned, vessel when it was seized January 19, the last day of the Bush administration.
The U.S. Navy was forced to release the Iranian ship after the new Obama administration decided no legal basis existed for the navy to disarm the ship.
The Joint Chiefs’ chairman, Adm. Michael Mullen, told reporters present at a Washington press conference, the U.S. Navy had “no legal authority to impound the arms.”
American assurances with regard to Israel have historically failed to materialize.
In 1957, Israel withdrew forces from the Sinai in exchange for an understanding that the American government would guarantee that it would stop any future attempts to blockade shipping into the Gulf of Aqaba, the lifeline of Eilat -Israel’s only southern port.
However, in May 1967, when Egypt expelled U.N. forces from the Sinai and blocked shipping into Eilat, the U.S. said that it “had no authorization” to break the blockade.
Israel’s foreign minister at the time, Abba Eban, flew to Washington to ask about the American gurarantees to safeguard shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba. Yet no one in the American government could locate the guarantees, which led Israel to act on its own in 1967 to launch a war to break the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Published in the Phila. Bulletin January 28, 2009