US military’s Gaza aid pier to cost $320 million, nearly double initial estimate

GOP senator slams ‘exploding’ cost of massive construction project said to involve 1,000 US service members

A maritime pier being built by the US military off the coast of the Gaza Strip, in an image released on April 29, 2024. (CENTCOM)
A maritime pier being built by the US military off the coast of the Gaza Strip, in an image released on April 29, 2024. (CENTCOM)

WASHINGTON — The US military’s cost estimate to build a pier off Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid has risen to $320 million, a US defense official and a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The figure, which has not been previously reported, illustrates the massive scale of a construction effort that the Pentagon has said involves about 1,000 US service members, mostly from the Army and Navy.

Still, the cost has roughly doubled from initial estimates earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“The cost has not just risen. It has exploded,” Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee, told Reuters, when asked about the funds.

“This dangerous effort with marginal benefit will now cost the American taxpayers at least $320 million to operate the pier for only 90 days.”

Democratic President Joe Biden announced the pier in March as aid officials implored Israel to ease access for relief supplies into Gaza over land routes. By opening a second route for aid, this one by sea, Biden administration officials hope to avert famine in northern Gaza.

Construction began last week, and on Monday, the US military’s Central Command published the first images of the under-construction pier.

Congress recently approved billions in aid to Gaza as part of a larger package that included military assistance to Israel and Ukraine. The funds for the aid pier are separate from that sum, coming out of the Defense Department budget.

Israel’s military offensive against Hamas, in response to the terror group’s egregious assault on Israel on October 7, has devastated the tiny Gaza Strip and plunged its 2.3 million people into a humanitarian crisis.

Construction work is seen on the coast of central Gaza, part of a US-led project to bring aid into the Strip, via a floating pier, in a handout image published April 27, 2024. (Defense Ministry Department of Engineering and Construction)

Still, Wicker and some other lawmakers have questioned whether the pier is a worthwhile endeavor, particularly given the risk that US military personnel could become targets of Hamas.

“How much will taxpayers be on the hook once – or if – the pier is finally constructed?” Wicker asked.

“For every day this mission continues, the price tag goes up and so does the level of risk for the 1,000 deployed troops within range of Hamas’s rockets.”

US Army soldiers load an AC unit aboard the USAV Monterey at the pier of the Joint Base Langley-Eustis during a media preview of the 7th Transportation Brigade deployment in Hampton, Virginia, on March 12, 2024. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP)

Concerns about the threat to American troops getting caught up in the Israel-Hamas war were underscored on Thursday as news emerged of a mortar attack near the area where the pier will eventually touch ground. No US forces were present, however, and they were miles offshore – beyond mortar range.

Biden had ordered US forces not to step foot on the Gaza shore.

The attack occurred as United Nations officials were touring the site with Israeli troops as well, the Israeli military said in response to a query on the incident.

This satellite picture taken by Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of a new aid port near Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

On Sunday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told ABC News “It will take probably two to three weeks before we can really see an operation.”

Kirby said the floating platform to bring more food and other essentials into Gaza will help, but has its limits.

“Nothing can replace, quite frankly, nothing can replace the ground routes and the trucks that are getting in,” Kirby said.

Israel recently stepped up efforts to deliver aid by land and opened up new ground routes. Washington has said aid delivery has increased significantly in recent weeks.

The pier will initially handle 90 trucks a day, but that number could go up to 150 trucks daily when it is fully operational. The United Nations said last week that the daily average number of trucks entering Gaza during April was 200 and that there had been a peak on Monday of 316.

A senior Biden administration official said last week that humanitarian aid coming off the pier will need to pass through Israeli checkpoints on land.

That is despite the aid having already been inspected by Israel in Cyprus before being shipped to Gaza. Israel wants to prevent any aid getting to Hamas, boosting the terror group’s war effort.

The prospect of checkpoints raises questions about possible delays even after aid reaches shore. The United Nations has long complained of obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza.

The United Nations has appealed for $2.5 billion to try and meet the most urgent needs of the people living in the Gaza Strip between April and December.

Most Popular
read more: