Times Radio (UK): Jesse Marks on the Challenges of a Maritime Port off Gaza

Senior Advocate for the Middle East Jesse Marks joined Times Radio (UK)‘s Ayesha Hazarika to discuss the challenges of maritime corridors of aid to Gaza and the urgency of getting aid into the region and deescalating the fighting as Gaza reaches famine like conditions. Transcript below.

Jesse Marks: I think [the port] certainly a welcome start and opening up access to the north. But it doesn’t sound like it will come anywhere close to having the capacity to scale the amount of it that would be necessary to reverse the trajectory. And the famine that Gaza is facing right now.

Ayesha Hazarika: And just on a really logistical point—I’ll get into some of the details of my next question—even building this corridor. How long do you think it will realistically take?

Marks: You know, the numbers that we’re hearing thrown around in the US government is roughly two months. I mean, if you think about that time is a critical factor here, people in northern Gaza and in many cases don’t have two months left. Experts noted that by August, if there are no changes to conditions and fighting in Gaza, we could see the death toll skyrocket two times what it is now simply by disease and succumbing to famine. So time is of the essence, two months is certainly way too long.

Hazarika: Now, Jesse, you’re very experienced on, on the ground logistics and you’ve done a very interesting sort of thread on Twitter (X) and you talk about some of the logistical challenges. You talk about logistics, you talk about security and you talk about scalability. Just talk us through some of the challenges that you’re thinking about.

Marks: Certainly. At each point of the maritime port, right, a series of challenges could emerge, right? You have the issue of vetting and inspecting goods in Cyprus. You have the issue of the actual physical movement and and shipping capacity, those seem to be being worked out relatively smoothly.

The challenge is when you get actually to the port of Gaza, right? So we’re talking about the physical construction of a port potentially by the US military and coordinations with USA ID. That means you’re gonna physically have to build a port that doesn’t exist. That’s question A. The second question is who then moves the goods from the port to the actual shore? And those details I expect will likely be some form of private company that are working in coordination with local actors.

But the real questions that we have not seen fully worked out is what happens when the the aid actually reaches the ground. Much of northern Gaza has been destroyed. The housing is destroyed. There’s damage across the roads. We’ve seen rubble spill over. So just the physical ability to move around is very difficult.

Folks on the ground told me that there are very few trucks available in Northern Gaza. So the concept of physically transporting the aid from an unloading area on the on the shore in an area controlled by Israel will be very challenging given that populations in the north not necessarily con concentrated right there by the coast, right.

This is going to require the movement of aid into northern Gaza through areas that have been heavily damaged in some areas where there is still active conflict to actually reach those populations. And we’re talking roughly around 300,000 people, according to UN estimates, many of whom are what we call “IPC fives,” those in “emergency famine like conditions,” people who are literally starving.

So at the end of the day, the north is most likely going to be the most affected by this corridor. But we still have the issue of the South, right?

The challenges for cross border aid from Rafah and Karem Shalom crossings are not actually addressed by this issue. We’ve got 1.5 million people sheltered there. And the ability to move aid has still gone unabated. Like that question is still not answered.

We’re still not seeing that the level of trucks needed to get in.

Hazarika: Right. I mean, you’ve, you’ve painted a really interesting picture there, Jesse of, of the AIDS sort of getting if like just into the the country but then how you distribute it.

And of course, as you’ve explained, this construction could take up to two months. The distribution could take more time. But time is something that people who are starving in Gaza don’t have.

And of course, we recently, just in the last few days, had, you know, this airdropping of aid into Gaza which went horribly wrong. Five people ended up being killed by these aid packages when the parachutes didn’t deploy, properly.

I mean, the situation sounds incredibly desperate. I mean, from what you’re seeing, it sounds like we’re a good two months, maybe even 2.5 months before this aid can get in and get properly distributed. What happens in the meantime?

Marks: So I think we will see a testing of the port. So I believe this weekend we will see maybe one or two ships begin to test this process to see how to deliver it even before the pier is built. So I expect that we will begin to see a lot of the mechanisms being worked out in real time.

I was in the region for several weeks in January, interviewing displaced Palestinians and humanitarian actors and there was one very clear message: trucks are critical; air drops and maritime ports are fundamentally not a substitute for overland transport; [and] more border access and full humanitarian access for ground movement inside of Gaza. And I say that prior to the conflict, 500 trucks could be delivered a day. Now we’re running at depending on the week, 150 to 100 to 125. And that is just clearly not efficient and the primary impediments to delivering that aid are political.

So it’s fascinating to watch as the international community, as the Biden administration, try these workarounds such as airdrops such as maritime corridors when the fundamental reality is is by opening those borders further in the south. Right? So opening up access and being able to actually flood the South with aid, then allow that aid in the south to be able to be distributed to the north safely. You can do that in tandem with the development of a pier, but it is not fundamentally a replacement for truck movement.

Hazarika: Really interesting point there. So what you’re basically saying this is, you know, it’s not a bad thing to do. But at the end of the day, what you need is trucks on the ground and on the road which is crucial.

Jesse, I’m just conscious of time. I just wanted to ask one final question that we, we know that the cease fire talks have, have, have broken down. But there’s a lot of worry about what happens next. King Abdullah, the second of Jordan has warned that if this continued war during Ramadan, which is just about to start, that could inflame the conflict even more. What are your thoughts as we go into that very important period of Ramadan?

Marks: Certainly, I think the first thing is if you look at the history in the last few years of when conflict has fueled, been fueled in Gaza. It’s been around the month of Ramadan in cases it was normally linked to questions around Al Aqsa Mosque. So we’re going to see other flashpoints, not even just in Gaza, that are going to play a role in kind of the feeling of tensions during this period.

I think it is absolutely imperative to reach a cease fire before Ramadan. You know, we are one day away from that deadline. But fundamentally, if there is no ceasefire, we cannot effectively fight famine under the present conditions.

And you know, maritime corridor aside, airdrops, those don’t change that reality. There has to be political will and creating that political will, particularly with the IDF and Israel, begins with the Biden administration drawing a very clear line in the sand. There has to be some form of de-escalation in the coming days and weeks if we are going to prevent this situation, the humanitarian crisis from becoming fundamentally worse.