Yesterday, moments after Secretary of State John Kerry departed for the Middle East to attempt to broker a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war, the State Department issued a warning recommending that “U.S. citizens consider the deferral of non-essential travel to Israel” due to the threat from “long-range rockets launched from Gaza.”
Long-range rocket fire from Gaza has been dramatically curtailed in recent days by the IDF’s ground operation, and was heaviest at the beginning of the war – some two weeks ago. Despite Hamas and Islamic Jihad barrages of M75 and M302 rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on July 8th, 9th, and 10th, no travel warning was issued.
Israel earned over $10 billion last year from 3.5 million visitors, the plurality of whom were Americans. Coming at the height of summer tourism season, State's warning could cost Israel many millions of dollars in lost revenue.
So why did the State Department issue this warning not when long-range rocket fire was a more serious threat, but only yesterday, days after such fire had decreased sharply, and coinciding with Kerry's trip to the region?
The answer may be that the Obama administration is using the travel warning to exert pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire. It could be a shot across the bow – a deniable but very real signal to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Obama administration’s support for Israel’s operation in Gaza has come to an end, and that there will be consequences for its continuation. And at the same time the State Department was delivering a blow to the Israeli tourism industry, Kerry was showing solidarity with Gaza by announcing a $47 million aid package, much of which is slated to be administered by UNRWA, the corrupt and terror-linked UN agency that has been in the news for storing Hamas rockets in one of its schools.
Reporters who cover the State Department could be forgiven for asking some probing questions today about whether travel warnings are being used as an impartial means of ensuring the safety of American travelers – or whether the warning system has been transformed by the Obama administration into a means of deterring a close ally from doing what it believes necessary to protect its civilians during wartime.