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Republican lawmakers latest to attack Gaza pier in defence spending bill

Some Republican lawmakers have criticised the project as a costly undertaking that risks pulling Americans troops into combat
US Capitol building, Congress (2021/AFP)

Republicans in Congress are the latest to take aim at US President Joe Biden's administration's Gaza pier project, as it comes under renewed scrutiny following Israel's use of a military "safe" zone nearby to rescue hostages, and more mundane infrastructure challenges. 

In a proposed amendment to the fiscal 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a group of Republican lawmakers are looking to prevent any funding for the Pentagon from going into the project.

"None of the funds authorised to be appropriated or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2025 for the Department of Defence may be used to construct, maintain or repair a pier off the coast of Gaza," the amendment states.

Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace, who introduced the amendment in a House of Representatives markup of the NDAA, called the project "a disaster".

"Would you pay $20,730 for a pound of chicken? That's the cost of food sent to Gaza under Biden's pier pet project," she said in a post on X, hailing the passage of the amendment as "prioritising Americans".

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Mace didn't say how she came up with the cost estimate. According to the Pentagon, the pier's overall financial cost was downgraded from an initial estimate of $320m to about $230m.  

Republican Congressman Warren Earl Davidson also introduced an amendment to cut funding to the pier.

His amendment would also prevent 2025 funding for the Department of Defence from being used in the Gaza pier's maintenance or reconstruction. In addition, it would prevent funds from supporting "the deployment of any equipment or members of the Armed Forces" to Gaza to protect the pier.

Republicans warn about risk to US soldiers

The Biden administration unveiled its Gaza pier plan in March as a way to address the humanitarian crisis in the besieged enclave. 

It quickly faced criticism from aid groups and Palestinians as a costly distraction by the US, for taking attention away from the immediate need for land crossings into Gaza to be reopened.

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The Biden administration has been adamant that no US soldiers are on the ground in Gaza protecting the pier. However, there is an air defence system at the pier to protect US assets. The US also has two US guided-missile destroyers operating in the Eastern Mediterranean to provide additional military support to the pier.

The NDAA is an annual piece of legislation that sets the budget for the Pentagon. The House of Representatives is slated to consider the amendment along with hundreds of others in the coming days, as is the Senate. A final version of the NDAA is passed by both bodies and signed into law by the US president.

Republican lawmakers however have honed in on Americans' concerns about deeper entanglements in the Middle East to criticise the project.

In March, a group of Republican senators wrote to Biden expressing concerns that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and other US-designated terrorist organisations in Gaza could attempt to attack US personnel working on the pier.

Republican lawmakers have opposed boosting humanitarian aid to groups like the UN Agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) and the Palestinian Authority in previous spending bills. 

Besides political criticism, the pier project has faced more practical challenges.

Pier to be dismantled 

On Friday, CNN reported that the US is expected to temporarily dismantle the pier for the second time in weeks due to adverse weather.

The 2025 NDAA is being hashed out at a time when the Biden administration itself is reviewing the US's military approach to Gaza and the occupied West Bank, two theatres that US officials and even lawmakers paid less attention to before 7 October compared to conflict zones where US troops have been actively engaged against the Islamic State like Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday, Israel landed a helicopter a stone's throw away from the pier after an attack on Nuseirat refugee camp that was praised by the US for recovering four captives, but was met with criticism by Palestinians and rights groups for killing over 270 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials. 

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Centcom, the US's overall military command for the Middle East, said that while Israel used an area south of the US-built pier as a landing zone, "the humanitarian pier facility, including its equipment, personnel and assets were not used in the operation to rescue hostages".

However, a US defence official, speaking with MEE on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the landing gave an appearance that the US was involved in the attack.

The US and Israel are close allies, and Washington has accelerated intelligence cooperation with Israel to locate captives and find and kill top Hamas commanders.

US officials publicly acknowledge their cooperation with their closest Middle East ally, but the Biden administration has been firm that it will not put US boots on the ground in Gaza.

The Biden administration is also weighing a plan to bring cooperation with the Palestinian Authority's security forces under the purview of Centcom, a potential reshuffle that underscores how the US is also at the heart of post-war Gaza governance planning, MEE reported last week.

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