Interview

Aid convoys in Gaza are risky for IDF, but key to the war’s success, says officer

Lt. Col. (Res.) Dan Doron, the 679th Armored Brigade’s combat manager, says daily humanitarian missions are a challenge amid the force’s offensive tasks

Lazar Berman

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Troops from the 679th Yiftach Armored Brigade operate in central Gaza, June 2024 (IDF Spokesperson)
Troops from the 679th Yiftach Armored Brigade operate in central Gaza, June 2024 (IDF Spokesperson)

URIM — Securing humanitarian aid convoys and airdrops is a “very complex challenge” for IDF ground forces operating in the central Gaza Strip, according to a senior officer in the 679th Yiftah Armored Brigade.

Speaking to The Times of Israel from the brigade’s rear command post in the southern community of Urim, some 10 kilometers from the border with southern Gaza, Lt. Col. (Res.) Dan Doron, 56, said ensuring that aid flows through its sector in the Netzarim Corridor is one of the unit’s core missions, despite the dangers.

“For us, protecting the humanitarian aid and the humanitarian routes is the oxygen hose for Israel to continue carrying out its mission,” he said.

Doron is the brigade’s combat manager, the commander of the war room in which the various support elements of the tank unit sit — air and artillery fires, intelligence, medical, logistics, engineering, and more.

Getting humanitarian aid to Palestinians civilians has been a major challenge throughout the war in Gaza, which began with the devastating Hamas assault on Israeli communities and military posts on October 7, including the base currently hosting the brigade’s rear war room.

Israel drastically increased the amount of aid entering the Strip after a deadly IDF strike in April on a World Central Kitchen humanitarian convoy. But UN agencies and humanitarian organizations claim the mass influx of aid consignments across Gaza’s border crossings has not been effective in alleviating the humanitarian crisis due to a lack of sufficient distribution outlets, which they claim Israel has not provided.

The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories liaison unit has long insisted that it is the UN and aid agencies that have failed to increase distribution capacity.

Lt. Col. (res.) Dan Doron of the 679th Yiftach Armored Brigade, May 16, 2024 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

In another challenge to aid efforts, Egypt has refused to let aid through its Rafah Border Crossing since Israel took control of the Gaza side of the crossing in early May. The Kerem Shalom Crossing from Israel continues to operate despite coming under intermittent attack by Hamas, and two recently opened crossings in northern Gaza are also operating.

“It’s something we didn’t have to do in the past — to understand [humanitarian aid’s] importance, and also to enable it,” said Doron.

The brigade’s mission, he said, is “to defend our sector, to deepen the operational achievement, while maintaining the humanitarian effort.”

In the staff war room that Doron runs, he has a population officer to oversee the coordination of humanitarian aid.

“He says, ‘Tomorrow five convoys and an airdrop will happen, prepare accordingly,'” explained Doron.

Airdrops force the brigade to limit its operations, he said.

Dozens of trucks pass through the brigade from the Kerem Shalom Crossing in southern Gaza, headed toward the northern part of the Strip.

Palestinians rush trucks as they transport international humanitarian aid from the US-built Trident Pier near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

The drivers are locals, and each is known personally to the 679th Brigade and to Unit 504, the IDF human intelligence force that manages the crossings along with the ground troops.

Doron — a father of three who in civilian life is responsible for the construction of all Intel factories across the globe — said that he has witnessed the convoys being raided once they pass to northern Gaza, but he does not know whether by Hamas or local gangs.

The humanitarian mission — like the defense of the corridor and the offensive operations to expand it — comes with significant risk for IDF troops.

“The humanitarian route can very easily become a terror attack,” said Doron. “Trucks coming from Rafah are passing by our troops. Of course there’s danger.”

“Are they trying to get wanted people through? For sure,” he said. “Are they trying to get weapons through? For sure.”

Hamas regularly fires mortars at the troops checking the convoys, he added.

Troops from the 679th Yiftach Armored Brigade operate in central Gaza, June 2024 (IDF Spokesperson)

“It’s a challenge to enable it,” said Doron. “You’re on a battlefield, but you also have to make sure the humanitarian aid gets through you safely.”

“On the one hand we are fighting a very cruel enemy, on the other… our job is to make sure the trucks pass through as quickly as possible in the smoothest way possible so they can get to their destinations,” said Doron.

To mitigate the risk, the brigade has implemented strict procedures around checking the trucks. At times, convoys have to be held up because of combat between the IDF and Hamas.

“If the convoy has to stop because there is an incident, we don’t tell it, ‘Yalla, go home and come back tomorrow,'” said Doron. “We go at the end of the day and do the coordination with [Unit] 504 and pass them through, because to us that’s one of our missions.”

Displaced civilians flee from the east of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip due to an IDF operation in the area, on June 5, 2024. (Bashar TALEB / AFP)

The brigade also provided the security perimeter to allow the construction of the US Army JLOTS pier, which has been a disappointment. The aid pier built on the Gaza coast by the United States for some $200 million may be dismantled next month, having so far completed a total of 10 days of actual operations.

Aid began arriving via the pier on May 17, and the United Nations said it transported 137 trucks of aid to warehouses, some 900 metric tons, before the US announced on May 28 that it had suspended operations so repairs could be made.

A United Nations-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification study found Tuesday that there is no famine in Gaza, though risk remains, defying predictions from March.

The new study said that assumptions about the amount of food that would enter the territory turned out to be wrong, and that the supply of food to Gaza increased instead of decreasing in recent months.

But it also warned that the food insecurity situation in Gaza remains catastrophic.

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