US emergency aid pier ready to launch, weather permitting – DW – 05/10/2024

The platform swings slowly in the sea, made up of several steel pontoons anchored to the seabed to form a large pier, which will soon accommodate ships bringing urgent aid to Gaza.

The US military has completed construction of the makeshift pier, a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday, but added that weather conditions could delay its operation. A ship carrying humanitarian aid left a port in Cyprus on Thursday and is set to unload its cargo at the dock during the weekend.

The pier’s completion comes as Israel carries out operations in the southern city of Rafah, displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, according to U.N. humanitarian groups.

The Israeli military also closed the Rafah border crossing earlier this week, closing a crucial entry point needed to deliver aid to the enclave and Egypt.

How will the US-built pier in Gaza work?

Floating several kilometers from the coast of Gaza, the pier will be guarded by approximately 1,000 armed American troops. They are just one part of a complex logistics chain that will cost at least $320 million (297 million euros).

The jetty will only be the first landing point for humanitarian cargo ships using this new sea route from Cyprus, located approximately 200 nautical miles away. The waters off Gaza are too shallow to reach the coast directly, meaning pallets of supplies must be unloaded here and transferred via forklifts to trucks, which will then be transported to smaller military ships.

Construction of the temporary port facility near Gaza City began in April, this satellite image shows.Image: Maxar Technologies/handout via REUTERS

The trucks will then be driven to a two-lane dock built with several pontoons and secured by the Israeli army about 600 meters (about 2,000 feet) from the shore. From there, the pallets will then be handed over to humanitarian organizations for distribution.

It is expected that 90 trucks will deliver relief supplies to Gaza via this route daily, with the number increasing to 150 once the jetty is fully operational.

Critics dispute the usefulness of the project

The project is controversial in the United States, and not just because of its costs. Critics said an already operational Israeli deep-water port in Ashdod, just 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of the Gaza Strip, would be a much easier and cheaper choice for delivering aid via the Erez border crossing, north of Gaza.

Instead, US President Joe Biden is “committing the US military to conduct a very complex, very expensive, low-production operation to bring food into the strip – while Biden could massively increase the amount of food in the band with much less effort or expense,” commented military expert Daniel Davis in the online magazine of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a US foreign policy think tank.

Davis noted that the United States had not exhausted its influence with the Israeli government to open Ashdod and Erez to deliveries. Several tons of humanitarian packages remained stranded in Ashdod for months because the Israeli government refused to cooperate with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for distribution, claiming the organization had been infiltrated by Hamas and was involved in its massacre of Israeli civilians. on October 7 which started the war.

Israeli protesters have also repeatedly blocked aid shipments to Gaza.

Could the US military get involved in the conflict?

There are also fears that American soldiers could be involved in the conflict. Biden categorically declared “no US troops on the ground in Gaza.” However, around 1,000 US troops have now been deployed to secure the aid delivery dock, which is within firing range of the Gaza coast.

The Israeli army caught fire while trying to anchor its part of the pier on April 25. During a congressional investigation, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said a similar attack on US soldiers was possible, but did not say how they might respond.

Fighting rages in northern Gaza, where the immense level of destruction and lack of aid has led to a humanitarian disaster.Image: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

The American military presence has also aroused some resentment on the Palestinian side. Speculation is already circulating on social media that Washington may want to build a sort of military bridgehead to Gaza to support Israel’s fight against Hamas.

Others have suggested that the United States is actually using the floating platform to exploit a gas field off the coast of Gaza under the guise of providing humanitarian aid. Although there is no reliable evidence to support such a claim, it indicates a deep distrust of the project.

Who will distribute the aid?

Jeremy Konyndyk, president of Refugees International, highlighted another problem with the aid plan last March. The Guardian newspaper: “Who will distribute it?”

The presence of humanitarian organizations in northern Gaza is “close to zero”, he said, adding that the sea corridor would only help to a limited extent while shifting the border distribution problem inward. .

Northern Gaza has been largely destroyed and law and order has collapsed amid widespread famine. On May 5, Washington for the first time accused radical Islamist Hamas, listed as a terrorist organization by Germany, the EU, the United States and other states, of intercepting and diverting humanitarian supplies to large scale in northern Gaza.

The goods have since been released and returned to the humanitarian organization from which they came, but the incident highlights the instability of the situation on the ground. As negotiations continue between Israel and Hamas, international humanitarian organizations continue to express serious concerns about the safety of their staff.

This article was originally written in German. It was first published on May 4 and updated on May 10 with the latest developments.