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Private US firm wants to coordinate aid boats to Gaza

Former military, CIA officials want to tap foreign donors to expand a sea route.

March 20, 2024, 11:43 AM
As published by ABC News.

A private U.S. advisory firm of former senior American military, CIA and humanitarian officials is proposing to operate the anticipated daily deployment of international aid ships from Cyprus to the Gaza coast, in a plan that would increase the American presence in the volatile region.

The proposal, pitched by the firm Fogbow with the hope that foreign donors will sign on in meetings this week, is being pursued separately from a U.S. military effort to build a giant pier off Gaza to enable the delivery of aid.

While such a plan would put more Americans operating near Gaza, Fogbow’s effort calls for its team to stay offshore, providing primarily logistics and other support from nearby sites.

“Right now, the plan is to have no Americans on the ground. But there will be former military and former humanitarian officials advising at each level,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the effort – coined the “Blue Beach Plan” — hadn’t been publicly announced.

Representatives from potential donor countries were scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday in Nicosia, Cyprus, to discuss details, the person said.

A leading global authority warned this week that famine was “imminent” in north Gaza in the wake of Israel’s military operations against Hamas. U.S. officials have pressed the Israeli government to open up ground checkpoints and allow aid trucks to enter Gaza. But convoys are still being denied access or slowed down as Israel says they want to ensure the cargo doesn’t help Hamas fighters.

With few options, the U.S. in recent weeks joined other countries in air dropping aid — pushing parachute-strapped pallets out the backs of C-130 military planes — in an effort officials acknowledge is not nearly as efficient as a ground convoy.

President Joe Biden this month announced he would try to push more aid through by opening up a maritime aid corridor and deployed some 1,000 troops to construct a pier that would help humanitarian ships off load supplies. The military pier, however, is still some two months away from becoming operational.

U.S. officials said this week that the government still hasn’t decided which organizations it might rely on to help move the humanitarian aid from its pier, including providing transportation to shore, security and distribution. Biden has insisted that U.S. troops not operate from the ground in Gaza, and the expectation is that Army, Navy and Marines will be working some three to five miles from the coast.

With the U.S. pier still weeks away, international aid groups have launched their own efforts using donations. Earlier this week, a barge operated by the Spanish aid group Open Arms landed with food from World Central Kitchen, a charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

According to a statement provided by the World Central Kitchen, aid workers built their own jetty in Gaza using nearby rubble from bombed buildings to unload the cargo. The group said their team is now prepared to send a second maritime shipment that will include food and heavy machinery to expedite the offloading process.

The idea pitched by Fogbow would dramatically expand these kinds of operations, the person familiar with Fogbow’s plan said, allowing more aid ships from the World Central Kitchen and elsewhere to access the coast weeks before the US military pier is up and running.

Private contractors operating in war zones aren’t uncommon, although US military officials grew wary of the idea following deadly shootings of civilians involving security contractors in the Iraq war.

Fogbow advisers, however, would not be involved in any security operations, and they would not work from the ground in Gaza. According to the plan, the group would rely on a maritime company from Cyprus to deliver supplies to the beach and United Nations organizations to distribute it.

Fogbow is led by retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Sam Mundy and Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon and CIA official and now an ABC News contributor, as well as by Chris Hylslop, a retired United Nations humanitarian official.