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US aid pier mired by series of debacles amid mounting 'extraordinary' costs

May 29, 2024 at 8:56 pm

Trucks drive to the Gaza floating pier on the Mediterranean Sea offshore installed by the US military to deliver aid to Gaza on May 17, 2024 [KHAMES ALREFI/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images]

The goal was to ramp up deliveries of badly needed humanitarian assistance.

But hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of military man hours later, US President Joe Biden’s temporary pier along the Gaza coast is now bound for an Israeli port after suffering embarrassing failures that left it adrift in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Aid deliveries, meanwhile, have fallen since its creation.

Over the weekend, the $320 million Joint Logistics, Over-the-Shore Trident pier was dealt a series of blows when four support vessels broke off in rough seas before running aground along the northern Gazan and Israeli coasts on Saturday. The motorised vessels were intended to help stabilise the structure and, to date, only one has been recovered.

The other three remain beached on the coastline as the US relies on its Israeli counterparts to help aid in the recovery effort.

READ: US military pier operations suspended after piece breaks off

After news of the mishaps became public, the Pentagon maintained that operations would continue. That changed Tuesday when images of the battered “temporary pier” began to circulate on social media, showing it listing in the Mediterranean, and appearing to take on water.

The Pentagon said part of the pier structure had broken off from the anchored section “due to high sea states and the North African weather system”, and the entire structure would need to be taken to port for repairs that are estimated to take more than a week.

The massive floating dock is now in the process of being towed for two days to the Israeli port of Ashdod where US Central Command will conduct the rehabilitation effort. A dollar figure for the repairs, as well as a firm timeline, were not immediately available.

“The pier proved highly valuable in delivering aid to the people of Gaza. Thus, upon completion of the pier repair and reassembly, the intention is to re-anchor the temporary pier to the coast of Gaza and resume humanitarian aid to the people who need it most to date,” Pentagon spokesperson, Sabrina Singh, said Tuesday.

More than 1,000 metric tons (1,102 US tons) of aid transited the pier since it became operational on 17 May, according to Pentagon figures.

But it took more than twice as long to build the structure, 23 days, as it was operational for 11 days. That does not include the weeks it took for the pier and its supporting vessels to transit the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea after President Joe Biden announced that the US would undertake the effort during his State of the Union address on 7 March.

Construction began the following month, on 25 April.

The debacle marks a stinging defeat for Biden as he seeks to stave off criticism from his left flank, and international aid and rights organisations, that he is enabling Israel’s onslaught against the besieged Gaza Strip, and is complicit in what the UN calls the coastal enclave’s “full-blown famine”.

A previous effort to deliver aid by airdrop saw the US fly sorties above Gaza, dropping shipments by air in what experts said was an effort that carries costs far greater than overland deliveries, and with far less volume.

Left unsaid, by the Biden administration at least, is that these workarounds were only ever needed because of Israel’s stalwart refusing to increase international assistance to levels that would meet the needs of Gaza’s battered and malnourished civilian population.

READ: Egypt angered by floating pier in Gaza: Israel media says

They remain short even, of the pre-war levels necessitated by Israel’s 17-year blockade on the enclave.

“It’s an extraordinary amount of money to create an image, a symbolic image, of US interest and commitment, as opposed to actually addressing the real problem, which until today, the US government has failed to do,” Geoffrey Aronson, a non-resident scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute think tank, told Anadolu. He was referring to Israel’s refusal to ramp up aid deliveries to needed levels.

“They’re facing this problem because the Americans are either actively or passively complicit in an Israeli policy designed to keep the Palestinians in Gaza just on the right side of famine. That’s not a pleasant place to be. And they understand this, I’m sure,” he added.

Israel’s offensive on Rafah has only worsened the situation, with the UN forced to halt food deliveries in the southern Gaza City due to security concerns for its personnel that would have been operating in a previously designated “safe zone”, which like so many before it, has been turned into an area of ​​active hostilities by Israel.

The drop in aid levels since the pier was constructed is due in part to Israel’s Rafah invasion and closure of overland aid crossings.

“In terms of how that compares to what had been getting in prior to the recent military activities in Rafah governorate, I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me. But obviously – maybe it’s not obvious. I think we’ve reported out before that the number – the amount of assistance that had been getting in was higher in April than it is now,” Daniel Dieckhaus, the Director of USAID’s Levant Response Management Team, told reporters 23 May.

“So, at a time when needs have increased as a result of the displacement, the 900,000 people that I cited, that the amount of assistance and the access has gone down. In terms of other impacts of recent military activities, you know, it – as would be logical during military activities, access is a little harder. It’s a little safer in some areas. “It’s a lot less safe in some areas,” he added.

Dieckhaus was referring to the forced displacement of Palestinians who fled Rafah under Israeli evacuation orders in what he called “associated panic”.

There is no end to the war in sight, and with Rafah now in the crosshairs, the humanitarian needs in Gaza, already at catastrophic levels, are only likely to multiply.

READ: US military’s pier in Gaza to cost $320m

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