US facing obstacles getting aid delivered to Gaza after finishing pier construction

Desperately needed humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza will at least for the next few days remain sitting off the coast of Gaza on an American Navy cargo ship, as the US continues to face obstacles to getting the floating pier it has constructed in place and operational in the eastern Mediterranean.

The pier and causeway, known as Joint Logistics Over the Shore or JLOTS, will ultimately be used by the US, its allies and aid groups to get aid into Gaza by sea from Cyprus. But the system had to be moved to the Port of Ashdod last week due to heavy seas, and it still hasn’t left.

Even when JLOTS becomes operational, the weather and sea conditions may severely limit the ability to use the floating pier.

It can only be safely operated in conditions with a maximum of 3-foot waves and winds less than approximately 15 miles per hour, according to a 2006 Naval War College paper on the systems limitations. A prediction of sea conditions from Israel’s Marine Data Center shows waves are often at or near that 3-foot limit in the area.

“JLOTS operations, which must take both safety and throughput requirements into account, must often wait for favorable weather and sea state conditions,” the authors wrote.

A defense official confirmed to CNN that the limitations on the pier system are accurate.

“The bottom line – heavy seas do have an effect on the ability to execute the JLOTS mission,” the official said. If winds or waves are stronger, loading and unloading using the JLOTS pier becomes dangerous.

Another potentially complicating factor is how Israel decides to proceed with its operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza, US officials said. A major Israeli offensive there could raise additional security concerns and impact the timing of when the pier and causeway are staged in the eastern Mediterranean. The planned staging area for the aid once it reaches Gaza has been hit by mortar and rocket fire at least twice in the last several weeks, CNN has reported.

The US is still aiming to move the system into place and begin the operation “in the coming days,” a Pentagon spokesperson told CNN on Thursday. For now, a massive barge called the M/V Sagamore that will be used to deliver the initial pallets of humanitarian aid from Cyprus to the pier has begun to move the supplies to another ship currently off the coast of Gaza, called the M/V Roy P. Benavidez.

The Benavidez, contracted by the US military, has been in the eastern Mediterranean since last month supporting the maritime corridor effort.

Finalizing plans to transport aid to shore

The US is also still working to finalize plans about who will actually transport humanitarian aid from the pier to the shore in Gaza, according to multiple US officials familiar with the matter.

The UK had initially offered to provide personnel to help drive aid trucks from the US military-built causeway off the coast of Gaza to the shore, where it would be picked up by UN personnel overseen by the World Food Programme, officials said. But the British recently withdrew that offer amid security concerns, the sources said.

The US, meanwhile, has ruled out using its own troops to drive the aid to the beach, because the Biden administration does not want American personnel getting that close to Gaza, officials have said.

A UK government spokesperson said that the UK does not “currently have plans to deploy Armed Forces personnel onto Gazan soil as part of this initiative, but we are working closely with the US, Cyprus, and other allies to ensure aid can be quickly delivered over the pier once it is fully installed.”

Another diplomatic source familiar with the discussions confirmed that there had been conversations in which the UK had offered to drive the aid down the causeway to the pier, as part of “a host of contingency plans” that had been developed.

“But for now there are no plans for the UK to be involved in that way,” the source added “The most likely scenario is an as yet undecided third party.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Thursday that “non-US civilian contractors will be driving those vehicles on the causeway onto the beach.”

One plan being discussed is for Israeli contractors to transport the aid, the officials and another source familiar with the matter told CNN. But that could also change and is not finalized, despite the Pentagon predicting that the pier will be up and running in the next several days.

The Israel Defense Forces have agreed to provide a wide security perimeter around the pier system and the aid operation. That has made some humanitarian groups and UN officials uneasy given the IDF’s history of targeting aid convoys and the perception that they are working under the IDF’s control, CNN previously reported. But the plan is for the IDF to remain at a relative distance as the aid is transported and offloaded onto the beach in Gaza, officials told CNN.

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