Cost of US effort to build humanitarian aid pier off Gaza expected to top $180M

Written by on April 9, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden’s plan to build a humanitarian pier floating off the coast of Gaza that could enable delivery of food, water and medicine into the devastated region is expect to cost at least $180 million and could top $200 million, ABC News has learned.

The price tag was described by two people familiar with the initial estimate, which has not been released by U.S. Central Command.

The tally is expected to fluctuate as U.S. officials scramble to finalize key details on the project, including which humanitarian relief organizations and foreign governments are willing to help carry the shipments to shore and distribute them to ease the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.

Officials also continue to discuss how to protect service members who will be operating three miles offshore of Gaza, where Hamas is believed to still operate.

The project — which triggered the deployment of six Army and Navy ships and will involve some 1,000 U.S. military troops — is on track to become operational in early May, enabling the delivery of some 2 million meals a day.

“No U.S. boots will be on the ground,” Biden promised when announcing the project in his State of the Union speech last month. “A temporary pier will enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.”

The effort has largely been seen as a political move by the president, who faced criticism for not doing more to try to rein in Israel’s destruction of Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks inside Israel and for not forcing Israel to allow more humanitarian aid to get through. White House officials have acknowledged the pier is still weeks away and not as efficient in delivering aid as via ground convoys. But they describe the deployment as part of a broader effort to open up every aid route possible to address potential famine in Gaza.

For its part, Israel defended its initial refusal to open more humanitarian channels in recent months, noting a need to screen supplies carefully to ensure they don’t help Hamas.

That dynamic changed in recent days. After Israel struck and killed seven aid workers last week — an incident Israel called a grave mistake — Biden threatened to change U.S. policy toward Gaza condition if Israel didn’t do more to allow humanitarian aid inside the enclave.

This week, Israel opened up ground checkpoints, allowing more than 1,000 trucks into Gaza — the most since the war began.

It is unlikely Israel’s new policy on allowing aid in would impact the deployment as the U.S. military ships neared the region. Aid groups say much more needs to be done to help Gaza residents.

The floating dock is expected to be nearly the size of a football field — about 97 feet wide and 270 feet long — stationed about three miles offshore. Container ships would screen their cargo in Cyprus before taking it to the floating dock and unloading it. From there, the aid would be moved aboard small Army ferries that would transport it to an 1,800-foot “trident” pier that connects to shore.

But with U.S. troops not allowed to go onshore, it’s still not clear who will bring the cargo from the pier to shore and then distribute it. Officials have said only that it’s working with “regional partners” on a solution that will ensure no American boots are on the ground in Gaza.

Deputy Defense Secretary Sabrina Singh said the military, State Department and USAID are working “around the clock” to find partners and set up the system.

“Still no boots on the ground. That is the policy that has been set by the president. We will not have boots on the ground when it comes to setting up this pier,” she said.

Those operational details though became increasingly complicated after the recent Israeli airstrike that killed seven aid workers.

José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, said much more needs to be done to ensure humanitarian groups can operate safely in Gaza.

“It’s been six months of targeting anything that seems — moves. This doesn’t seem a war against terror. This doesn’t seem anymore a war about defending Israel,” he told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“This really, at this point, seems it’s a war against humanity itself,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser, Ophir Falk, pushed back against claims that the attack on the WCK vehicles was intentional.

“That’s absurd,” Falk told ABC News last week. “The last thing we would want in the world is to endanger civilian lives.”

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