US’ Gaza Floating Port Proposal Highlights Its Failures – OpEd


By Mohamed Chebaro

No ceasefire, no humanitarian truce and not enough aid is trickling through to feed the starving Palestinians. The Israeli war on Gaza continues to show no signs of abating, even for a humanitarian pause on the occasion of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The UN and aid groups say only a fraction of the supplies needed for Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been allowed in since Israel placed the narrow Mediterranean Strip under near-total siege following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas inside Israel that left more than 1,200 mainly civilian Israelis dead and saw more than 250 taken hostage. The reprisal war by Israel has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, mainly women and children.

Weeks of talks involving the US, Qatar and Egypt failed to yield a ceasefire, truce or any hostage exchange ahead of the start of Ramadan. And while both sides continue their blame game for the failure to reach a deal, the civilians of Gaza are likely to continue to barely exist. If they survive the relentless Israeli bombardments, they might not survive the lack of food and medicine. The UN and many aid groups say that the supplies reaching Gaza by truck from Egypt or by airdrops make up hardly 20 percent of what Gazans need on a daily basis. One can only hope that the newly announced US humanitarian sea bridge will be able to deliver the vital supplies needed to save lives in Gaza.

But I am skeptical. Sadly, I believe that President Joe Biden’s plan for the US military to build a floating port to ferry badly needed aid to Gaza, even if it were to be up and running tomorrow, exposes the limits of American power and its failure to influence one of its closest allies. This is despite Israel having been reliant on the US’ unwavering support for its survival for more than 75 years.

The plan to build a floating harbor is a grand project to prove wrong those who accuse the US administration of disregarding the unfolding human tragedy in Gaza and to show that Biden cares for the plight of Palestinian civilians, exactly like the millions around the world who are protesting and calling for an end to the war. Cynically speaking, however, one cannot also help but read between the lines and see the waning US foreign influence and its limits vis a vis one of its closest allies. In an election year, Biden is unlikely to water down America’s backing for Israel, as many in the Arab and Muslim worlds would wish. This humanitarian sea bridge seems to be a tool to make the Israeli leadership understand that patience is wearing thin, even among its allies.

From the outside, the sea bridge, like the airdrops of humanitarian supplies over Gaza, points to the US army’s long tradition of humanitarian relief operations, such as the one undertaken as early as 1949 known as the Berlin Airlift and the one in Somalia in the summer of 1992 to save Somalis from starvation. But the Gaza sea bridge is a costly choice, taken by a desperate power, especially as the Strip is not far from Israeli ports or Egyptian land access. However, the relentless Israeli military operations in and around Gaza, in addition to the Israeli checks on goods prior to allowing them in and the breakdown of any system to safely distribute the aid inside Gaza, are likely to undermine the efficiency of even the most ambitious plans.

What the US needs is for its ally Israel to heed its calls that enough is enough. Despite the initial outpouring of support from Biden and other Western leaders in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, as the Israeli war on Gaza has unfolded, leaving thousands of women and children dead, Israel’s allies have slowly started to express their disquiet, initially behind closed doors. And the sea bridge is maybe the clearest manifestation of the breakdown of relations due to Israeli intransigence.

There has never been any love that has bound Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Biden. And despite Biden continuously urging Netanyahu to apply restraint, it was never likely that the US president would back up his veiled threats to the Israeli leadership with action. The US administration’s welcome for de facto Israeli deputy prime minister Benny Gantz in Washington last week is likely to have irked Netanyahu. But he knows that America is unlikely to take any bolder steps, such as halting arms shipments or abstaining from using its veto in defense of Israel at the UN Security Council, even if Washington’s “red line” warning against an invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza is flouted.

This red line concerning Rafah, just like the one on Syria’s use of chemical weapons in 2012-2013, is likely to be crossed. This is what has lost Washington many friends in the Middle East and across the globe and is likely to further its position as a superpower whose stature and reputation is being eroded, this time by an ally rather than a foe. Many in the region believe that Washington only has itself to blame for its failure to calibrate an unambiguous stance that reflects the positive role a superpower should play, even within the confines of the thinking that the US is “never going to leave Israel,” as Biden said in an interview this week.

One last word though. Maybe the US is failing as a superpower in Gaza and before that in Syria and possibly elsewhere, but at least it is still a power that makes some efforts, even if they fail. The question is, what are the other ascending powers of this world doing for peace and stability, other than uttering empty rhetoric and enjoying the disruptor or critical observer’s role? Maybe it is time for all of them to call and work for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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