The Miscalculations and Challenges of the US-Built Floating Pier for Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

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The US-built giant floating pier, intended to facilitate humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, commenced operations on May 17. However, it has faced significant operational challenges, rendering it largely ineffective. Despite the initial high hopes, this much-touted project has not succeeded in replacing traditional land routes to deliver aid amidst the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The project, developed by the US military, was designed as a Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) facility, involving a floating dock at sea connected to a pier on the Gaza coast. The Pentagon allocated $320 million to this endeavor, which took over two months, the efforts of 1,000 US troops, and several US Navy vessels to construct. Despite these efforts, the maritime corridor has been functional for only 12 days since its inception.

Miscalculations and Operational Failures

Stephen Morrison, a senior vice-president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, highlighted fundamental miscalculations as a primary reason for the project’s failure. Morrison noted that the Department of Defense did not fully anticipate the weather conditions that the pier would face. These miscalculations led to the structure being too fragile to withstand the rough seas of the eastern Mediterranean, which proved particularly problematic during a storm on May 25. This storm severely damaged the pier, necessitating repairs at the Israeli port of Ashdod. Although the pier resumed operations on June 8, aid deliveries were suspended again just a day later due to rough weather, and the pier was dismantled again on June 14.

Image : US-Built Floating Pier for Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

Security Concerns and Aid Delivery Issues

In addition to weather-related challenges, the pier has been plagued by poor security. On most days, arriving aid was dumped on the beach because there were no trucks available to transport it from the pier to warehouses within Gaza. This lack of logistical coordination further hampered the effectiveness of the aid deliveries. The World Food Programme has suspended convoys tasked with delivering the aid, pending an ongoing security review.

The maritime structure was designed to handle “sea state 3” conditions, which involve waves of 0.5 to 1.25 meters in height. However, the actual sea conditions frequently exceeded these parameters, leading to repeated disruptions in operations. The unpredictable weather of the eastern Mediterranean has thus emerged as a significant obstacle, raising questions about the long-term viability of the pier.

Tactical Pauses and Security Conditions

Despite Israel introducing “tactical pauses” to allow aid into Gaza, security conditions remain dire. The Rafah crossing from Egypt has been closed since May 7 due to the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) offensive in Rafah. Meanwhile, the roads to the Keren Shalom border crossing in southern Israel are considered too dangerous, given ongoing IDF attacks on Hamas and incidents of looting by gangs.

A US official described the maritime pier as a “critical additional conduit for aid deliveries,” underscoring its importance despite the numerous challenges. Department of Defense Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder emphasized that no end date has been established for the mission, countering some media reports suggesting otherwise.

Political Implications and Criticisms

The floating pier project was initially unveiled during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in March as a symbol of his administration’s commitment to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The pier was intended to supplement land crossings, which Israel had restricted, thereby increasing the flow of food and other essential supplies into the besieged enclave. However, critics argue that the project also served as a “humanitarian cover” for Biden’s support of Israel.

This criticism reflects broader political dynamics surrounding US involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the pier aimed to demonstrate US humanitarian concern, its operational failures have drawn attention to the complexities and challenges of delivering aid in conflict zones. The project’s setbacks underscore the difficulties in balancing military strategy with humanitarian objectives in volatile environments.

Future Prospects and Strategic Considerations

The future of the floating pier remains uncertain. Given its vulnerability to adverse weather conditions and security challenges, further operational disruptions are likely. The initial miscalculations in the project’s design and implementation highlight the need for more robust planning and risk assessment in similar humanitarian initiatives.

Efforts to enhance the pier’s resilience and security are crucial for its continued operation. This includes improving logistical coordination to ensure that aid can be effectively transported from the pier to distribution points within Gaza. Additionally, addressing security concerns to protect aid convoys from potential attacks and looting is essential.

The floating pier’s story is a stark reminder of the complexities involved in delivering humanitarian aid in conflict zones. It underscores the need for comprehensive planning and adaptive strategies to navigate the unpredictable challenges of such environments. While the project has faced significant hurdles, its potential to provide a critical lifeline for Gaza remains a valuable goal that warrants continued efforts and improvements.

Broader Implications for Humanitarian Efforts

The experience with the floating pier in Gaza has broader implications for humanitarian efforts in other conflict zones. It highlights the importance of understanding local environmental conditions and security dynamics when planning aid delivery mechanisms. The lessons learned from this project can inform future initiatives, helping to mitigate risks and enhance the effectiveness of humanitarian interventions.

Moreover, the project underscores the interplay between humanitarian aid and political considerations. The criticisms of the floating pier as a “humanitarian cover” for political support illustrate the challenges of maintaining neutrality and impartiality in aid delivery. Ensuring that humanitarian efforts are perceived as genuinely aimed at alleviating suffering, rather than serving political agendas, is crucial for their success and legitimacy.

Gaza’s Humanitarian Crisis Amidst Prolonged Conflict

In the wake of Israel’s announcement of a daily ceasefire on a crucial route to facilitate increased humanitarian aid into Gaza, the besieged territory faces a humanitarian disaster with essential supplies piling up and undelivered under the relentless summer heat.

A Prolonged Conflict and Its Aftermath

The conflict, which has spanned over eight months following the deadly Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, has precipitated severe humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip. The attack resulted in the death of 1,194 individuals, predominantly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures. Additionally, 251 hostages were seized, with 116 remaining in Gaza, though the Israeli military reports that 41 are deceased. In retaliation, Israel’s offensive in Gaza has claimed the lives of at least 37,551 people, primarily civilians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Humanitarian Crisis Intensifies

The intensifying conflict has resulted in warnings from the United Nations of an impending famine in Gaza. The situation has led to heightened desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million residents, exacerbated by continuous fighting that has hindered aid delivery efforts by various agencies.

Blocked Aid and Breakdown of Order

Despite Israel’s assertions of permitting the entry of hundreds of trucks laden with aid into southern Gaza, the distribution of these supplies has been severely hampered. On June 21, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted the increasing danger to humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza due to the breakdown of public order and safety. Criminal activities, coupled with the risk of theft and robbery, have thwarted humanitarian access to critical areas.

Israel released aerial footage depicting containers of aid lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, illustrating the stalemate. This footage shows trucks arriving only to add to the burgeoning stockpile, with little progress in distribution.

Disruption at Kerem Shalom

Since June 18, the UN has been unable to retrieve any supplies from Kerem Shalom due to ongoing fighting in the vicinity, leaving essential aid stranded. William Schomburg, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ chief in Rafah, noted that arranging trucks, especially from the Egyptian side, remains complex. The complications arise not only from civil disorder but also from the necessity of navigating through conflict zones. Schomburg reported instances of rockets being fired nearby, highlighting the hostility in the area.

The Blame Game

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) reported on June 20 that 1,200 aid trucks awaited collection by UN agencies, attributing the delay to a lack of distribution efforts. Cogat’s spokesperson, Shimon Freedman, reiterated that the daily pause on a southern route into Gaza was meant to facilitate the UN’s collection and distribution of aid, under Israeli military supervision. However, he criticized the organizations for not enhancing their distribution capacities sufficiently.

Aid Agencies’ Perspective

Conversely, aid agencies blame Israel’s offensive, particularly in Rafah, for exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. The offensive has displaced over a million people and shut down a crucial border crossing with Egypt, complicating relief efforts. Schomburg described Rafah City as a “ghost town,” with high levels of destruction and minimal population presence, symbolizing Gaza’s ongoing tragedy.

The UN’s food agency reported that its convoys had been looted by desperate individuals inside Gaza, further stalling aid delivery. The International Red Cross reported similar challenges, emphasizing the operational difficulties amidst hostilities.

Civilian Struggles and Desperation

As the impasse continues, civilians in Gaza bear the brunt of the crisis. Umm Mohammad Zamlat, a 66-year-old resident of northern Gaza now living in Khan Younis, lamented the absence of aid, noting the high cost of living and the inefficacy of specialized aid agencies in providing assistance.

Doctors Without Borders highlighted the plight of six trucks carrying 37 tonnes of essential medical supplies, stuck at the Egyptian part of Kerem Shalom since June 14. The organization condemned the situation, equating it to preventing a firefighter from saving people trapped in a burning house.

International Reactions and Calls for Action

The international community has expressed growing concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Multiple agencies and governments have called for immediate measures to ensure the delivery of aid to the besieged population. The UN and other humanitarian organizations continue to urge both Israel and Hamas to facilitate unobstructed access to aid and ensure the safety of aid workers.

In conclusion, the US-built floating pier for humanitarian aid to Gaza represents a well-intentioned but flawed attempt to address the dire needs of the beleaguered enclave. The project has faced significant operational and security challenges, leading to its limited effectiveness thus far. Miscalculations regarding weather conditions and logistical coordination have underscored the need for more robust planning in similar initiatives.

Despite these setbacks, the floating pier remains a critical conduit for aid deliveries, offering a potential lifeline for Gaza. Continued efforts to enhance its resilience and address security concerns are essential for its success. The broader lessons from this project can inform future humanitarian efforts, helping to navigate the complexities of delivering aid in conflict zones and ensuring that such initiatives genuinely serve the needs of those they aim to help.


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