Columbia in Gaza: The purpose of the pier*

E. Rowell:  I do not think the meaning of the pier as detailed below has escaped a seasoned hand like Bibi Netanyahu.  It has, however, escaped the understanding of most of the media and certainly of the American people.  Now why would Team Biden not want to openly explain his reason for this pier to Americans?  It is because the purpose is evil, anti-American, and destructive to our friends and allies in the Middle East.

Failure was not an option.


Feature image:  the wayward pier-utility boat (with the Army landing craft nearby), beached off Ashdod, Israel on 25 May 2024.  Via Twitter.  Overlay:  elements of a U.S. Army recruiting poster from World War I, patriotically invoking the call of Mistress Columbia.  Wikipedia: Vincent Aderente –  U.S. Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under digital ID ppmsca.50012

With the Gaza pier now reportedly shooting off support infrastructure to bounce away with utility landing craft in the choppy seas, thoughtful Americans may be trying to puzzle out why the pier has been put there.  The point is especially puzzling in light of how little humanitarian aid has actually gotten to inland distribution points, much less to certified hungry Gazans.  (For a mental adjustment, the first aid shipment was transferred at sea for delivery to the pier between 11 and 16 May, and the pier was declared operational on16 May.  It’s now 26 May.)

Some aid had begun getting through, just before the pier-involved mishap.

But there has been much speculation by Biden’s critics on the “why” of the pier.  Most speculation is at the tactical or operational level, in terms of how it would manifest itself.  E.g., intelligent observers suggest the pier will at some point be the central feature in an incident that would prompt U.S. intervention of some kind ashore, in Gaza.

I don’t discount that possibility, but rather consider it subsumed (as one potential development) in a larger understanding of the pier’s purpose.  The pier has a strategic purpose, not just to create individual incidents, but to reset entirely the basis on which regional and world powers address the issue of the Palestinian Arabs and Israel.  More than that, it would form the basis of a new approach to the region.

The pier is there in part to do what President Obama and John Kerry were unable to do through an arrangement in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in Obama’s second term.  The pier is there to wedge a consortium of outside powers into a veto-wielding position, backed by armed force, over Israel’s security perimeter and state sovereignty.  The ultimate purpose isn’t limited to settling the Israel-Palestinian Arab hash.  It’s rewriting the grand narrative of conditions and priorities in the Middle East.

The Biden administration has made it abundantly clear that it’s pursuing such a consortium.  It has floated more than once the concept of a peacekeeping or security force (similar in function if not in name) in Gaza, shadow-sponsored by the U.S. but led and manned by regional Arab nations.

Such a force would fulfill the function the Obama-Kerry proposal had in mind for the West Bank in 2013, but in Gaza would be Arab in nominal leadership and profile.  The Obama-Kerry proposal, by contrast, had the U.S. in a lead execution role.

Team Biden evidently connects this arrangement to its end-state desire for a two-state “solution” – a preference the team has been flogging relentlessly since 7 October.  Biden has had no qualms about leaking frequently to that effect.  His administration has gone well beyond suggesting that it’s still a viable option.  The U.S posture has been that it’s the only acceptable end-state, and even that a recalcitrant Netanyahu government is the obstacle to it, and ought therefore – being deemed, irrationally, a “threat to democracy” – to be ejected from power forthwith.

The U.S. pier in Gaza could be leveraged, as a humanitarian matter, to justify forming a proto-consortium to provide security for it.  But that consideration, which has everyone thinking of Samantha Power, is merely a practical preliminary to the actual vision, which is to pry control of security in Gaza out of Israel’s hands, and place it in the hands of the eventual consortium.  “Samantha Power” is too limited a template to think in here.

An exceptionally important aspect of this vision is exactly the purpose the pier serves in terms of international law on recognized territorial space and security.  This is why I have harped on the issue so often (see also here and here):  because the pier creates an alternative, direct entry point to Gaza that had no functional existence before an outside power – the U.S. – created it.

Before the World Central Kitchen Meals-on-Keels delivery in March, and installation of the U.S pier in the months afterward, Israel enforced the same blockade regime the IDF has been enforcing since Cast Lead in 2009.  Nothing was allowed to enter Gaza from the sea, or by direct air transport.  Anything bound for Gaza had to be received and processed through Israel (or, if Egypt was keeping a checkpoint open, through Egypt).  The record, of course, is that Israel has poured massive quantities of aid materials into Gaza throughout the years of the blockade.  Gaza hasn’t been suffering; Hamas has always had plenty of resources to build tunnels and other combat infrastructure with, and manufacture a considerable storehouse of arms, while the population ate and shopped well.

The U.S. pier, while it doesn’t automatically break the blockade enforced by Israel, instantly began undermining it.  And the more outside powers claim an interest in the function of the pier, or an interest like it, the more undermined the blockade is.

I suspect Israel has a plan already to alter the features of the blockade in a post-combat Gaza.  But it’s one thing for Israel to do that, with its own eye to its security.  It’s a very different proposition for an outside multinational force to undertake such a mission, especially one formally led – as the U.S. reportedly prefers – by Egypt, and probably bankrolled by Qatar.

If the Biden administration’s series of themed leaks about a multinational force, and its insistence on a two-state solution, aren’t convincing, consider that Biden has been trying very directly and overly to thwart what Israel needs to do to avoid that fate.  Israel needs to finish the job of removing Hamas in Rafah, significantly disable and deter Hezbollah in Lebanon, and implement its own plan for a post-combat phase in Gaza.  Israel needs to do this all while shouldering off and deterring any direct threat posed by Iran, whether through Syria and Iraq or from Iran itself.

Israel’s end-state must be to reestablish livable conditions for Israelis under a sustainable security regime.  That means no one can be left on the field able to mount another 10/7 style attack, from any vector.  There can be no question of proposing that Israel live for years with the prospect of having to serially evacuate hundreds of thousands of its people around the country, while dealing with rocket, missile, and drone barrages from Iran and its proxies.  That marker of unacceptable living conditions is laid, and at a minimum, Israel’s security end-state must prevent it.

Thus, the Biden administration’s withholding of weaponry that would help interdict such attacks before they can be launched is a clear signal of counter-intent.  So is the demand for a ceasefire that would serve only to keep Israel from finishing the job in Gaza.  So has been the Biden heel-dragging and curious lack of urgency about getting hostages (including Americans) released, a pattern that only keeps Israel’s hands tied in Gaza.

There are many reasons already discussed at TOC to recognize the intent of the Biden administration with the pier in Gaza.  But here are two more.

One is the arcane but significant U.S. push in 2022 for an agreement between Lebanon and Israel on a maritime boundary.  That agreement, while lauded in some quarters, was decried by others in Israel (and the U.S.) because it required Israel to alter the position of a line of buoys that had been marking the informal demarcation line observed before the agreement.

Israel lost a relatively minor amount of its offshore claims, and importantly, the prospect of enforcing Israeli claims became less clear-cut in the aftermath, because of where the new line fell.  But much of the core complaint – a legitimate one – was that the agreement was made under U.S. pressure, and with a Lebanese government indisputably in thrall to Hezbollah.

The Biden administration vowed, as part of the process, to back up Israel in enforcement of the agreed line.  But that seemingly positive aspect of the process actually set a dangerous precedent of creating expectations about a U.S. interest in the agreed line – an interest that could function as a veto on Israeli policy as well as an endorsement of it.  A U.S. administration could put conditions on that endorsement at any time.

If the current withholding of long-approved arms shipments to Israel, precisely for the purpose of vetoing Israel policy, doesn’t convince readers that that can happen if the U.S. has such an interested investment, I’m not sure what to do for them.  The withholding is real.  The 2022 maritime agreement was a striking, and troubling, instance of the Biden administration writing what may well turn into bad security checks to Israel.

The second reason harks back to the end of the Obama administration and the notorious New York Times interview with former Obama official Ben Rhodes in 2016.  The Times piece is best remembered for Rhodes’s reference to a foreign policy “Blob” and a media “echo chamber,” addressed by him in his NSC communications role, on matters geopolitical.  But of more profound import were Rhodes’s comments on the Obama team’s overall intentions for Middle East policy.

It’s best to let the article speak for Rhodes.  Here are excerpts of the NYT article from my treatment on 11 May 2016.

“By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the [Iranian] regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peace who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what otherwise might have been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices his government was making.  By eliminating the fuss about Iran’s nuclear program, the administration hoped to eliminate a source of structural tension between the two countries, which would create the space for America to disentangle itself from the established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey.  With one bold move, the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East.”

It was clear in 2016 that the Obama administration did have in had in mind “radically reorienting American policy in the Middle East” (the JCPOA “deal” negotiated with Iran was sufficient evidence of that), and sought “the space for America to disentangle itself from its established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey.  With one bold move (the JCPOA), the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East.”

Rhodes added the atmospherics of regretting that “members of the [Foreign Policy] Blob” like “Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties” were prone to “whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East.”

I recall interlocutors at the time thinking I was being too credulous taking these verbal heroics from Rhodes seriously.  But in hindsight (as well, in my view, as at the time), it is obvious that Team Obama acted on just such a radical view, and indeed meant to “disentangle itself from its established system of alliances” in the Middle East.

Obama didn’t behave with the same level of vigorous faithlessness Biden displays with Israel.  But Obama was actually radical enough.  His soporific manner was deceiving in that regard.  The Biden Team – with a number of warmed-over players from Obama’s tenure – is if anything more overtly radical.

The Rhodes interview clarifies that the departure of the JCPOA era from the customary mold and emphases of American policy in the decades before it was deliberate.  There was a vision and strategy behind it.  It wasn’t incompetence in pursuing the same goals everyone else thought we were pursuing.  Reality reconciles itself in acknowledging that the Obama goals were not those common goals.

Neither are Biden’s (we needn’t bother with lengthy discussions of whether they’re “his.” The handlers of the Biden presidency clearly navigate by a set of goals.  For shorthand, we can put his name on them).

No one forms a new grand consortium, offering enticing roles to favored players, for light and transient reasons.  Even focusing on the long-running drama of the two recent Democratic administrations with Iran isn’t zooming out far enough.  This isn’t just about Iran.  Or if it is, it’s not about some small-ball purpose with Iran.

It involves, from where I sit, a chill with Jordan, a high-handed utilitarian posture with Iraq, a fair amount of hostility toward UAE and Saudi Arabia, a willingness to annoy and confuse Egypt, and somewhat pathetic whispering conclaves with Qatar and Lebanon.  The CIA Director seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on the road negotiating our foreign policy in the region.  The Secretary of Defense seems to be assigned to utter rebukes of Israel that are way outside his wheelhouse.

But the more important point is that, to the extent we even know what the goals are, they aren’t America’s longstanding, traditional goals.  One of the easiest ways to see that is to observe that we aren’t keeping the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden secure for global shipping.  Shipping remains largely rerouted around Africa (see hereherehere), because in spite of our Navy presence in the chokepoint, missiles and drones from Iran’s Houthi proxy force in Yemen are still an ever-present threat.

That in turn is because we aren’t interdicting the threat before it goes live.  We’re allowing inventory and opportunity to go uninterdicted ashore.

At this exceptionally freighted time for the region, we also have no carrier in the Persian Gulf to deter Iran.  The U.S. military presence in and around the Gulf is quite self-effacing.  We’re apparently not using Air Force assets based in the Gulf for interdiction.  Though the situation has seemingly quieted down, it’s been much more dangerous in Iraq and Syria to be U.S. troops than to be the paramilitary forces backed by Iran.

With U.S. power languishing unbolstered and unused in the Middle East, we are nevertheless energetically pushing the idea of a multinational force in Gaza – to the significant point of starting to name names – and a recognized state of “Palestine,” to be plucked out from under Israel heedless of Israel’s preferences or interests.

Team Biden is doing everything Ben Rhodes talked about in his interview in Obama’s final year – and Biden’s focus, with Israel fighting Hamas to restore an acceptable level of security for Israelis, is on offering third parties roles in a multinational force.  That multinational force is what matters to Biden.

It’s what the pier is there for – and it’s not just for ensuring Hamas gets to stay in Gaza.  It’s for changing the entire system of interplay and dynamics in the Middle East, by using the “Gaza” moment to line nations up in an arrangement useful for far-reaching purposes.  It’s not Sykes-Picot – there’s no implication of a napkin-map being sketched – but it is about affinities and clubby connections going forward.  And it treats Israel like prey rather than a respected actor in the current war theater.

I don’t like it.

You may have to be pretty old to remember that for decades, the female figure of “Columbia” was used in venues such as opinion publishing, and editorial and political art, as a popular personification of the United States (and before that the colonies, and even the larger “New World”).  (Oh, look, there’s a Wikipedia page.)

I spot readers that point so we don’t waste time imagining that I’m referring to Columbia University in the subject line, or have misspelled Colombia in some obscure allusion to our neighbor to the south.

No, I’m toponyming the USA as it was once common to do, with “Columbia” having the air of a classical (or at least poetic and cultural) allusion.

Some may know that the female figure long used by Columbia Pictures (now a label of Sony Pictures) bears the name Columbia for this reason.  I’m including this footnote to assist those who don’t, while avoiding the awkwardness of explaining at the outset an allusion whose elegance goes from gas to solid in 30 seconds if it has to be laid out.


May 29, 2024 | 11 Comments »

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11 Comments / 11 Comments

  1. Might I add, they are EVIL!

    They are ruthless, and they are dangerous, and they are psychopaths, but they are not stupid

  2. @Bear

    Biden and his crew are dangerously stupid!

    You deal yourself short if you truly believe that these people are stupid. They are ruthless, and they are dangerous, and they are psychopaths, but they are not stupid. They stole the presidency of the United States, and despite this reality, you would have us believe that their motivation surrounding the bridge is simple electoral pantomiming to satisfy an electoral constituency which has any relevance in but a single state in support of a policy which is opposed by 4/5 of all Americans? No, the motivation for the bridge is no electoral ruse and these people are neither stupid nor simplistic in their pursuits, even as they are fully qualified psychopaths. Indeed, they are dangerous, but the danger which they pose is not because they are stupid but because they are willful and more clever by half than some would have us believe, such as yourself. While they are not all powerful, they have power enough to achieve a great deal, and among the policy concerns which are foremost in their wish list to pursue, is the destruction of the Jewish state and the undoing of the Jewish people. To deny this is to ignore the villains who oppose us and the villainy which they are currently unveiling, only part of which is the world wide coordinated policy against the Jewish people and the deployment of an American bridge to nowhere in Israel. Indeed, if you believe the purpose of the bridge is simple gesticulation to satisfy the antisemitic fervor of but a fraction of a fraction of the electorate in an election which they intend to steal, well, I have a bridge to sell you which you might actually be interested in buying.

    Also, Biden doesn’t have any interest in getting aid to the Gazan people, but only to Hamas, and that objective is fully being realized. Meanwhile the bridge stands as a permanent breach thru any Israeli blockade which the American govt can and will pass whatever goods, contraband included, to aid their Hamas allies. Israel will have no manner by which to plug that breach nor to interdict any war goods going to Hamas. Again, if you think these people are stupid, none of this would make sense, but I think you should consider the true nature of the anti-Israel forces which have been pushing this bridge policy forward, and accept that they are not fooling anyone with their interest in aiding the Gazan people, or at least anyone with the exception of those such as yourself who have convinced themselves that people such as Blinken and Powers are only dangerous because they are stupid. Indeed, the fact is that the danger which they do pose to our people and to our state is much greater than you suppose, and the true nature of that danger will be seen to come from them being successful rather than from them being stupid.

  3. @Adam the pier was always a stupid idea, just for Biden to show his pro Pali audience that he cares about them.

    Such a pier isn’t meant to be permanent. In Gaza it is a static target that is easy to shoot at if you are close enough. So I would not want to be working on the pier.

    Biden should lean on Egypt to open the Rafah Crossing. It is much safer to brings goods to Ashdod port and then truck them in via one of the crossing from Israel. Or get Egypt to allow them to dock at Al Arish and truck them via the land crossing at Rafah or Karem HaShalom.

    Biden and his crew are dangerously stupid!

  4. It is very revealing that the U.S. relies on Israel to repair the pier and keep it in working order. American soldiers don’t do it themselves. They don’t want to be “boots on the grownd,” This proves that the American accusations that Israel is
    obstructing aid to innocent Gazan civiians is b____t., and that the USG knows this.

  5. @liz44: While I kind of like your suggestion, I think it will be destroyed a few more times before the end of the war by “friendly Hamas fire”. May the USA will give up on its attempts to rebuild when they finally realize that even Hamas don’t want their silly propaganda beachhead pier.

  6. As usual today in any anti-Israel measures, Barack HUSSEIN Obama is the prime mover. Can’t the Israelis insist that the pier be dismantled as soon as the Gaza war is officially over? Or just do the job themselve?

  7. Absolutely nothing to do with aid. Troops and weapons landing….Obama is the nefarious entity
    Planning it

  8. It’s been obvious since Israel was forbidden to respond properly to the Iraqi missiles that the “international community ” would not allow Israel to defend itself by their own means and methods. Probably the intention is to get Israel defeated sooner or later, just like the recent failed 10/7 attempt.