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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The U.S. Plans a Port for Gaza to Provide Humanitarian Aid

Filed under: Operation Swords of Iron, U.S. Policy

The U.S. Plans a Port for Gaza to Provide Humanitarian Aid
A Spanish “Open Arms” ship tows a World Central Kitchen (WCK) barge from Cyprus to a jetty on a Gazan beach. (IDF)

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the initiative to build the Gaza port. Despite its modest beginning (for now, it will be a floating pier in northern Gaza), it could develop into a real port that would rid Israel once and for all of the burden of the “blockade.” In the long term, it could grant the Gazans freedom of movement and open commercial and economic horizons for them.

According to a U.S. Defense Department briefing, the project will consist of:

A floating pier, an approximately 1,800-foot-long causeway attached to the shore, and a group of logistic support vessels and barges that will transport the aid from the pier to the causeway. Once the aid has reached the two-lane causeway, it can be transported to the land and distributed to Gaza.1

In the present context, the American port will be funded by the Emirates for humanitarian aid only. Once constructed, the port could be a first step toward eliminating UNRWA’s aid function and bypassing Hamas’ obstructions and the Palestinian Authority’s sovereignty in Gaza. If the situation continues, the port may herald the return to Gaza of countries such as Saudi Arabia, which left it because of Qatar’s deep involvement in its affairs.

That is a big question—whether Qatar will be included in the port construction or whether it will be solely an Emirati project. Palestinian Muhammad Dahlan will be in charge of the undertaking if it remains in the Emirates’ hands. However, if Qatar plays a role, that is not certain, even though Dahlan has already visited Doha in preparation and met with the Hamas leaders there. We do not know what was agreed upon.

Meanwhile, a Ship-Borne Emergency Supply Operation Began

Meanwhile, without waiting for the 60-day construction of the American pier, international aid agencies, with Israeli assistance, constructed a small jetty to deliver the first shipment of 200 tons of food from Cyprus. The American World Central Kitchen NGO built the jetty, with Israeli troops securing the coastline. Twelve trucks distributed the supplies in northern Gaza. More aid from Cyprus is en route.

The International Scramble to Build a Permanent Port

Qatar’s inclusion would mean a foothold for Turkey, which has coveted Gaza since the ill-starred naval convoy of the Mavi Marmara, as a means to control the eastern basin of the Mediterranean. The Emirates would reject that out of hand because they are allies, along with Israel, of Greece and Cyprus.

In 2017, Israel and the United Arab Emirates flew together as part of a Greek air force exercise, in which planes from Italy and the United States also participated.

Greek exercise patch
The “patch” worn by forces from the United States, UAE, Greece, Italy, and Israel who participated in the Greek exercise.

Cyprus, from which the aid fleet will sail to the temporary port, is in a standoff with Turkey over natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Cyprus will not favor Qatar’s involvement as an entrance ticket for Turkey.

That brings us to the possible renewal of the initiative for offshore Gaza gas production, which was cut short by Hamas’ takeover of the Strip. If the Emirates take the lead role in building the port, they will oust Hamas and enable gas production to go forward, integrating the reserves with those of Israel and Cyprus. If Qatar, however, is added to the picture, followed by Turkey, the drilling of offshore Gaza gas will continue to be problematic, with Hamas possibly remaining a player.

The Department of Defense Presentation of the Pier-Causeway Gaza Project2

The Department of Defense Presentation of the Pier-Causeway Gaza Project

Further complicating the picture is Europe’s dim view of the project and, according to sources in Greece, that of Germany. Germany has taken guardianship of the Greek economy and does not look with favor on the Israeli-Greek economic axis. Germany views that partnership as potential competition over the common European market, which is Germany’s particular concern.

Furthermore, Egypt fears losing the strategic asset of the Rafah crossing. More broadly, a port in Gaza would heighten Egypt’s apprehensions about an economic conduit from India through the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan to the Mediterranean via Israel, at the expense of the Suez Canal.

And last but not least, the Palestinian Authority is an issue. Last weekend, Mahmoud Abbas finally assigned the task of setting up the new PA government to his senior economist, Muhammad Mustafa. Abbas seeks thereby to curb Dahlan and the Emirates so that Ramallah will be relevant to the port project, which is politically advantageous to the PA because it is the official sovereign of Gaza and economically beneficial if the PA can win a share of the sizable project contracts. The question is whether it is too late. The port project has sailed without the PA. Will it join Egypt and Turkey in seeking to oust Dahlan and the Emirates or start working directly with the United States and Israel? Muhammad Mustafa may have the answers.

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  2. Ibid.↩︎