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Aid and abet: Does the US-built Gaza pier hide a secret agenda?

Aid and abet: Does the US-built Gaza pier hide a secret agenda?
6 min read
17 June, 2024
Analysis: The US-built pier to deliver aid to Gaza may have a hidden agenda: to deflect from Israel's status as an occupying power by outsourcing aid to others.

In the months following President Joe Biden's announcement of a US-built floating pier on Gaza’s shore for large-scale aid delivery in March, Ibrahim Youssed and Ahmed Abu Kamel frequently visited the Wadi Gaza Bridge — the nearest and safest point to watch the construction progress.

The two friends, who were displaced in December 2023 from north to central Gaza, spent several mornings between April and May watching over a thousand American soldiers and sailors build the $320 million Trident Pier, its offshore barge, and the two-lane, 550-metre causeway anchoring it to Gaza’s shore.

According to the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), the temporary pier is an “additive” route to the humanitarian effort in the besieged enclave that aims to deliver 500 tonnes of aid daily to Gaza.

However, like many Palestinians, Youssef and Abu Kamel suspect the pier’s construction might have more sinister motives.

“If the Americans' goal was strictly humanitarian, why haven’t they pressured Israel to open the crossings?” Youssef tells The New Arab. He and his friend asked to be referred to by pseudonyms for security reasons. “Israel could easily allow thousands of aid trucks through the existing land crossings, which it controls entirely,” Youssed said.

Currently, only the Israeli-controlled Karam Abu Salem and the Western Erez crossing in northern Gaza remain open, yet according to the United Nations (UN), the amount of aid passing through them falls far short of Gaza's urgent needs.

The U.S. has coordinated various methods to deliver aid to Gaza, including the controversial use of air drops [Getty].

The UN estimates that 500 trucks are required daily to avert the ongoing famine in Gaza. However, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), aid entering Gaza decreased by 67 percent between May 7 and May 26.

Although the maritime port comes at a critical point in the months-long conflict, in Abu Kamel’s view, it is an attempt by the US to take some of the international pressure both on Israel and itself.

“Egypt has refused to accept forcibly displaced Palestinians, tightening its borders before Israel occupied most of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing,” Abu Kamel adds. “The way I see it is the Americans are saving face until a more pragmatic solution emerges.”

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A dangerous political risk

Construction on the pier began under the US military’s supervision on April 25. By May 17, CENTCOM announced the successful arrival of the first humanitarian aid shipments in Gaza through the newly established corridor.

The aid delivered via the pier undergoes several stages before reaching Gaza. First, it arrives in Cyprus, where it undergoes screening by both the US and Israel. The aid is then palletised and shipped to the floating platform near the Gaza coast, where it is loaded onto trucks for distribution on land in Gaza.

“The pier is a dangerous political risk for Palestinians,” says Ahed Farwana, an independent Palestinian political analyst. “It’s an Israeli attempt to shirk its legal responsibilities as an occupying power by delegating aid provision to other entities.”

Israel has over six land crossings that could be used to deliver aid efficiently, according to Farwana, but “opts for a US-managed sea route to achieve its broader political objectives.”

"Israel knows it cannot forcefully relocate Palestinians to Sinai, so it resorts to creating harsh conditions that make voluntary migration seem like the only option," he explains.

"Any maritime route established by Israel is likely aimed at facilitating this migration and undermining the Palestinian dream of statehood."

Farwana also alluded to how the maritime pier could be a pretence to exert control over firstly the marine and secondly the Palestinian gas fields situated in the territorial waters 35 kilometres off the coast of Gaza.

“Any intent to operate this pier or any other sovereign structure without Palestinian coordination and presence may further diminish Palestinian political rights in controlling their international waters,” he adds.

Isolating Gaza

Israel's intent, according to Israeli affairs researcher Ahmed Moussa, is to create a new mechanism for managing aid that bypasses Hamas and diminishes UNRWA's role, which Israel seeks to delegitimise.

“Israel's desire to isolate Gaza extends to disconnecting it from Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. The aim here is to control all aspects of life in the sector,” he tells The New Arab.

“It’s advantageous as Israel also seeks to bolster its ongoing bargaining position with Gazans regarding their humanitarian needs, alongside diminishing Egypt's role by reducing Rafah Crossing's involvement in aid and individual movements.

On its part, Hamas did not obstruct the construction of the American pier. In a statement circulated mid-May, it said that any effort to alleviate the humanitarian crisis is welcome but reaffirmed the rejection of any military presence of any force on Palestinian territory. 

Emboldened by a far-right government, Israeli settlers have actively impeded aid into Gaza [Getty]

Almost a week after aid started arriving through the pier, the Pentagon said that a portion of the causeway broke away after sustaining storm damage. The incident disrupted the pier’s operation for about two weeks, during which US military personnel repaired the damaged section in the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod.

On June 7, the pier was floated back to the Gaza coast, and the following day, US naval vessels unloaded 492 tons of food, according to the US Agency for International Development (USAID). This amount roughly translates to 30 truckloads - nearly a fifth of what aid workers say is required to mitigate the famine currently unfolding in Gaza.

A day later, the Israeli captive rescue operation which freed four hostages near the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, located in the vicinity of the floating dock, is said to have involved the Israeli military deploying a helicopter “not far from” the US-built pier to evacuate three captives and the soldiers rescuing them. 

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Unofficial reports said the Israeli operation relied on the pier to bring in troops, a claim that CENTCOM vehemently denied.

However, the Israeli mission that saw the death of at least 274 people in the Nuseirat area because of the intense bombing was soon followed by a pause to the World Food Programme’s humanitarian aid distribution from the American-build dock, which the organisation’s director said was owing to safety concerns, after a staff member was injured in the operation, and two WFP warehouses were rocketed.

Aid agencies assert that land routes remain the most effective means of delivering aid to Gaza. However, restrictions have caused aid to accumulate at border crossings, as relief groups await decisions from Israeli officials to distribute it.

According to Dawood Al-Astal, head of a major relief committee in southern Gaza, the aid delivered via the pier was insufficient compared to the vast needs of the displaced population.

"Land crossings can manage thousands of aid trucks daily, so why not open them," he asks. “The pier is a symbolic effort, attempting to deflect blame from Israel for the severe restrictions on aid."

Mohamed Solaimane is a Gaza-based journalist with bylines in regional and international outlets, focusing on humanitarian and environmental issues

This piece is published in collaboration with Egab.