1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Gaza: US emergency aid pier ready to go, weather permitting

Thomas Latschan
May 10, 2024

The makeshift pier built by the US Army off the coast of Gaza will soon be up and running. The expensive project comes with complicated logistics and major concerns, but could help ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The floating platform to be used to transfer aid supplies for Gaza
The floating pier, shown here under construction by the US Army in late April, will soon be ready for aid deliveriesImage: U.S. Army/AP Photo/picture alliance

The platform bobs sluggishly in the sea, composed of several steel pontoons anchored to the seabed to form a large pier, soon to dock ships bringing urgently needed aid to Gaza.

The US Army has finished building the makeshift pier, a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday, but added that weather conditions may delay its operation. A ship carrying humanitarian aid departed from a port in Cyprus on Thursday and is set to unload its cargo at the dock over the weekend.

The completion of the pier comes as Israel is conducting operations in the southern city of Rafah, displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, according to UN aid groups.

The Israeli military also shut down the Rafah border crossing earlier this week, closing off a crucial entry point necessary for delivering aid to the enclave and Egypt. 

How will US-built pier in Gaza work?

Floating several miles off the coast of Gaza, the pier will be guarded by around 1,000 armed US soldiers. They are just one component of a complex logistics chain that will cost at least $320 million (€297 million).

The pier will be just the first landing point for aid freighters coming through this new sea route from Cyprus, around 200 nautical miles away. The waters off Gaza are too shallow to directly reach the coast, which means pallets of supplies must be unloaded here and transferred via forklifts to trucks, which will then be driven onto smaller army ships.

Satellite image of the port facility under construction near Gaza City
Construction of the temporary port facility near Gaza City began in April, as seen in this satellite imageImage: Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

The trucks will then be taken to a two-lane pier built out of more pontoons and secured by the Israeli military around 600 meters (about 2,000 feet) from shore. From there, the pallets will be then handed over to aid organizations for distribution.

The plan is for 90 trucks to bring relief supplies to Gaza daily via this route, increasing to 150 as soon as the pier is fully operational.

Critics dispute project's utility

The project is controversial in the US, and not just for its expense. Critics have said an already functioning Israeli deep-sea port in Ashdod just 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of the Gaza Strip would be a far easier and cheaper choice for delivering aid via the Erez border crossing in northern Gaza.

Instead, US President Joe Biden "is committing the United States military to conducting a highly complex, very expensive, low-production operation to bring food into the strip — when Biden could massively increase the amount of food into the strip with far less effort or expense," military expert Daniel Davis commented in the online magazine of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a US foreign policy think tank.

Davis noted that the US had not exhausted its leverage with the Israeli government to open Ashdod and Erez for deliveries. Several tons of aid shipments were stuck in Ashdod for months because the Israeli government refused to cooperate with the United Nations Palestinian Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on distribution, claiming the organization had been infiltrated by Hamas and was involved in its massacre of Israeli civilians on October 7 that sparked the war.

Israeli protesters have also repeatedly blocked aid shipments to Gaza.

Could US military get involved in the conflict?

There are also concerns US soldiers could become involved in the conflict. Biden has categorically said "no US boots on the ground in Gaza." However, around 1,000 American troops have now been deployed to secure the aid delivery pier, which is within firing range from the Gaza coast.

The Israeli army took fire while attempting to anchor their part of the pier on April 25. In a congressional inquiry, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said a similar attack on US soldiers was possible, but did not specify how they might respond.

Israeli tanks operate in the northern Gaza Strip in November 2023
The fighting rages on in northern Gaza, where the immense level of destruction and lack of aid has led to humanitarian disasterImage: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

The US military presence has also caused some resentment on the Palestinian side. There are already speculations on social media that Washington could be aiming to build a kind of military bridgehead to Gaza to support Israel's fight against Hamas.

Others have suggested the US is actually using the floating platform to exploit a gas field off the Gaza coast under the cover of providing humanitarian aid. While there is no reliable evidence for such a claim, it indicates a deep distrust of the project.

Who will distribute the aid?

Jeremy Konyndyk, president of Refugees International, pointed out another problem with this aid plan back in March to The Guardian newspaper: "Who is going to distribute it?" 

The presence of aid organizations in northern Gaza is "close to zero," he said, adding that the sea corridor would only help to a limited extent while shifting the distribution problem from the borders to the interior.

Northern Gaza has been largely destroyed and public order has collapsed amid widespread famine. On May 5, Washington accused the radical Islamist Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Germany, the EU, US and other states, of intercepting and diverting aid supplies on a large scale in northern Gaza for the first time.

The goods have since been released and returned to the humanitarian organization they were taken from, but the incident highlights how unstable the situation on the ground remains. Amid ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas, international aid organizations continue to express serious concerns about the safety of their staff.

This article was originally written in German. It was first published on May 4, and updated on May 10 with the latest developments.