US ships head to Gaza for massive aid pier project — but enclave can’t afford to wait

The complex operation off the Strip’s coast is set to start running in May; for now, Israel is facing intensifying pressure to greatly increase food delivery to civilians

Tal Schneider

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

US Army Vessel (USAV) General Frank S. Besson (LSV-1) from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, XVIII Airborne Corps, prepare to departs Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 9, 2024. (US Central Command via AP)
US Army Vessel (USAV) General Frank S. Besson (LSV-1) from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, XVIII Airborne Corps, prepare to departs Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 9, 2024. (US Central Command via AP)

As the US continues its limited airdrops of aid into the Gaza Strip, eight American ships are en route to build a floating pier off the enclave’s coast — a large construction intended to enable the delivery of some two million meals into Gaza daily.

Due to Israeli security limitations, for the last 17 years goods have not been delivered to Gaza by sea. This is about to change.

The project involves a force of about 1,000 American soldiers. According to Pentagon Spokesman Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, none of the soldiers will set foot on Gazan land.

The first ship to leave the US for the region, two weeks ago, was the USAV General Frank S. Besson — a logistical vessel that will begin building the floating pier when it arrives.

According to the engineering plan, a special work surface 22 meters wide and 82 meters long will be erected five kilometers from the coast, adjacent to the ship.

Boats will move between the work surface and the floating pier. The pier itself, which will be assembled separately from the ship, will act as a two-lane “road,” and through it, goods will move to the next stop.

An aircraft airdrops humanitarian aid over the northern Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, March 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Pentagon has said the specific anchoring spot for the pier will not be revealed at this stage.

The assembly of a floating pier was practiced less than a year ago in a joint US-Australian drill, Exercise Talisman Sabre. Two American units that took part in the drill have also been tasked with the current operation — Combat Logistics Battalion 7 and Naval Carrier Strike Group 1.

Civilian subcontractor

To ensure that US soldiers do not come into contact with Gazan land or Hamas, the US army has hired a subcontractor named Fogbow. The company will manage the collection of goods from the sea and their distribution in Gaza, although it is not yet clear how it will conduct the operation.

A group of soldiers from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) wave to the crew of LLV Monterey as it pulls out from port on a humanitarian mission to Gaza, March 12, 2024, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

At the head of the company, which specializes in humanitarian aid, are two former US Army officers, Sam Mundy and Mick Mulroy.

A key aspect of the effort will be ensuring that there is no rampage of desperate civilians trying to get hold of the goods as they come ashore. Security for the operation will most likely be the responsibility of the IDF. Both the security forces and Gazan civilians are likely to be exposed to gunfire by armed gunmen at the distribution stations.

The US appears well-prepared to manage the naval aspect of the operation, but plans for the interface with the shore and distribution within Gaza are not yet finalized.

The American decision to launch such an operation stems first and foremost from the fact that Israel has not been getting enough food and humanitarian aid into Gaza. President Joe Biden has raised the subject during every phone call he’s had with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the moment the war began. Israel made various promises, but the crossings couldn’t keep up with the number of trucks, and as Israel has so far refused to make plans for Gaza after the war, terror operatives have continued to pounce on aid trucks and have bolstered their positions in various regions of the Strip.

The Besson has already set out, and another three US ships are a few days behind it. Another four ships set to take part are currently docked in Virginia and Florida.

The operation is meant to begin delivering goods around May 10. Until then, the US will continue to airdrop humanitarian aid.

Palestinians rush to collect the humanitarian aid airdropped into Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on Sunday, March 17, 2024. (AP/Mohammed Hajjar)

Until the American fleet arrives, most food continues to enter Gaza in trucks through Israeli checkpoints. And with growing criticism of Israel around the world for the insufficiency of the aid reaching civilians, Jerusalem will face intense pressure to massively increase that aid effort.

Israel has blamed international aid groups for failing to keep up with the deliveries, while these have said the Israeli offensive and its destabilizing effect have made it far more difficult for them to operate effectively. Whatever the reasons, the international community is rapidly losing patience. It demands more food enter Gaza now to prevent a deterioration to mass famine.

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