How the US military plans to build a floating dock for urgently needed aid to Gaza

Some 1,000 US troops involved in operation, with massive pieces of steel locking together like a huge LEGO system to form pier and causeway up to 550 meters long and two lanes wide

The US Defense Department's Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) capability, as planned for Gaza. The department said on March 8, 2024, that components of the JLOTS include a floating pier, an approximately 1,800-foot-long causeway that will be attached to the shore, and a group of logistic support vessels and barges that will transport the aid from the pier to the causeway. (US Department of Defense)
The US Defense Department's Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) capability, as planned for Gaza. The department said on March 8, 2024, that components of the JLOTS include a floating pier, an approximately 1,800-foot-long causeway that will be attached to the shore, and a group of logistic support vessels and barges that will transport the aid from the pier to the causeway. (US Department of Defense)

WASHINGTON — Even before US President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union address the plans for providing aid to Gaza by sea, the Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade and other units were scrambling to pull equipment together.

They received their orders before the speech: Build a floating dock off the Gaza coast to provide food and other desperately needed assistance to residents of the Strip.

It’s a complex operation, involving as many as 1,000 US troops, and it won’t happen overnight.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters it will take weeks for this to come together.

Some officials say it will take about two months. And beyond the logistical challenges, the operation will depend on Israel’s cooperation.

A look at what’s known about the operation.

US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024. (Shawn Thew/Pool/AFP)

Why build a floating pier?

The war was triggered when Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking 253 others hostage. Israel declared war with the aim of toppling Hamas from power in Gaza and securing the release of the hostages, with a military operation that has killed more than 30,000 Gazans, according to unverified figures from the Hamas-run health ministry in the Strip. Israel, which notes that Hamas fights from within the civilian populace, using Gazans as human shields, says more than 13,000 of the Gaza dead are Hamas and other terror group operatives, and that others were killed by terror groups’ rocket misfires from inside the Strip.

A humanitarian catastrophe is now spiraling in the enclave.

The UN says virtually all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are struggling to find food, and more than a half-million currently face starvation.

Getting in food, medical supplies and other aid has been difficult, if not impossible at times. Last month saw a deadly melee, during which dozens of Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded while swarming aid trucks in Gaza City.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid have to drive from the Rafah crossing with Egypt or the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel, both on the southern edge of Gaza, through the conflict zone to reach the largely cut-off areas in the north. In addition, some Israeli activists have been working to block aid entering Gaza in recent weeks.

People gather at Israel’s Nitzana border crossing with Egypt on March 5, 2024, protesting against the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip until all hostages held by Hamas terrorists are released. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Last week, the US began airdrops of aid for Gaza. But that can provide only a limited amount of aid and may not reach those who need it. On Friday, a medic at Gaza’s largest hospital said a humanitarian airdrop killed five people and wounded 10, apparently when a parachute malfunctioned. Both the US and Jordan denied responsibility.

In this image obtained from the US Central Command (CENTCOM), military personnel prepare to load humanitarian aid into US Air Force C-130 planes at an undisclosed location on March 5, 2024, in a joint US-Jordan operation. (Handout/US Central Command/AFP)

In his address Thursday, Biden directed the military to construct a temporary pier on Gaza’s coast “that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.”

Biden said the pier will “enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.”

Assembled like LEGO

According to defense officials, the 7th Transportation Brigade based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia is already starting to pull together what’s called the Joint Logistics Over The Shore (JLOTS) equipment and watercraft.

It’s like a huge LEGO system — an array of 40-foot-long (12-meter-long) pieces of steel that can be locked together to form a pier and causeway. The causeway would be up to 1,800 feet (nearly 550 meters) long and two lanes wide.

And in the coming days, US troops will begin loading the equipment onto a large Military Sealift Command vessel. The equipment will include the steel pieces and smaller tug vessels that can help move things into place.

That loading isn’t likely to start until sometime next week, and once done the ship will set off across the Atlantic Ocean with members of the 7th Transportation Brigade aboard. A number of other military units from the US and abroad will also be participating in the mission.

Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Feb. 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

Ryder said the troops will build an offshore pier where large ships can offload food and supplies. Then smaller military vessels will transport that aid from the floating pier to the temporary causeway that will be driven into the ground at the shoreline.

Pentagon Press Secretary US Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 8, 2024. (Joseph Clark / US Department of Defense)

Biden said Thursday that there will be no US forces on the ground in Gaza for the mission, which will likely involve other allies, contractors and aid agencies.

What are the challenges?

A key question will be what Israel is prepared to do to support the aid delivery effort.

The airdrops have been an unusual workaround by the Biden administration, which for months has appealed to Israel to increase the delivery of aid to Gaza and provide access and protection for trucks carrying the goods.

Aid parcels are airdropped over the northern Gaza Strip on March 8, 2024. (AFP)

According to Biden, the Israeli government will maintain security at the pier and protect it from any attacks by Hamas.

And there may also be a need for crowd control, in case residents try to storm the pier to get the desperately needed food.

While officials said they don’t likely need security on the sea route to Israel there will be a requirement for allies and private ships to deliver the aid along the maritime corridor.

It is also unclear who will be unloading the aid at the dock and moving it to shore.

What are other nations and aid groups doing?

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides offered the use of his country’s port in Larnaca months ago for a possible sea route for aid deliveries to Gaza, a 230-mile (370-kilometer) journey.

Cyprus invited authorities from Israel, the US and other European countries to join Cypriot agents in vetting all shipments so nothing could be used by Hamas against Israel. The offer received strong interest from the Americans, Europeans and others, and extended planning followed.

The European Commission said Friday that a ship bearing humanitarian aid was preparing to leave Cyprus and head for Gaza.

The ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group is seen docked as it prepares to ferry some 200 tonnes of rice and flour directly to Gaza, at Larnaca harbor, Cyprus, on March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Marcos Andronicou)

The vessel belonging to Spain’s Open Arms aid group will make a pilot voyage to test the maritime corridor in the coming days. The ship has been waiting at Larnaca for permission to deliver food aid from World Central Kitchen, a US charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

The UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, told the AP the exact timing of the pilot shipment by sea depended on conditions, but said Sunday looked favorable. The UAE funded the operation and worked directly with the Israelis in getting the shipment ready without issues, he said.

World Central Kitchen prepared the boat in Cyprus with 200 tons of rice, flour and proteins that will soon be ready to leave for Gaza, and an additional 500 tons of aid is in Cyprus and ready to follow, spokeswoman Chloe Mata Crane said in a statement.

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