Murmurs of Mulberries

The pros, the cons, and the history behind Joe Biden’s plan to build a port off the coast of Gaza

In preparation for Operation Overlord (the Allied invasion of France in June 1944) in World War Two, the British Admiralty constructed two portable floating harbours, which would be anchored off the coast of Normandy to facilitate the supply of the advancing armies. They were called Mullberys, and they were logistically essential due to the Wehrmacht’s occupation of French ports. Fearful that the French ports could not be secured fast enough on D-day or that the defenders may sabotage them in the process (rendering them unusable), the Mullberrys were a necessary backup. Indeed, the Mulberrys remained in use for ten months after the successful landings in Normandy, allowing the Allied navies to unload roughly 4 million tonnes of supplies off the coast as the Allies worked on securing and repairing the French ports. However, the floating harbours became prime targets, and one of the Mulberry was eventually lost in a violent storm, proving the difficulties of mounting such an operation.

Now, in 2024, an analogous situation materialized when U.S. President Joe Biden announced the construction of a floating harbour off the coast of Gaza during his State of the Union Address on March 7.

According to the White House, the President instructed the United States Military to begin constructing the port in response to the international outcry for increased quantities of humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.

On March 9, two days after President Biden’s speech, the support ship General Frank S. Besson was en route to the Mediterranean to begin construction of the floating pier, with four more ships following on March 12.

The rapid deployment of these assets displays the U.S. Military’s intent and capability to have the port operational as soon as possible – they certainly aren’t wasting any time.

Once construction on the pier is complete, it will float three miles off the Gaza shore, with a causeway connecting it to the mainland to deliver supplies. This allows President Biden to accomplish his State of the Union pledge to increase aid to the besieged Gaza Strip without putting American ‘boots on the ground’.

In recent days, and under international pressure, Israel has eased restrictions on the amount of humanitarian aid entering Gaza, sending it through the Israeli port of Ashdod. This calls into question the merits of constructing offshore harbours when the infrastructure to supply the Gaza Strip already exists. However, supporters of Biden’s Mullberrys and critics of Israel argue that the creation of an offshore harbour will allow aid shipments to circumvent what they assert to be a harsh Israeli blockade and inspection regime, which slows and limits the delivery of aid.

Although the construction of this new pier may weaken Israeli’s capacity to screen the aid entering the strip, it also shifts responsibility. American service personnel may find themselves under the pressure and international scrutiny that the IDF has been under since the war began. Furthermore, there has been rampant evidence that the aid is being stolen en mass, so whether this will alleviate the plight of ordinary civilians or just bolster underground stockpiles remains to be seen.

Critics of Biden’s plans have noted that since the pier will only be 3 miles offshore from Gaza, it is still extremely close to a warzone and, therefore, in danger. In fact, HAMAS and the various other militant groups fighting in the Gaza Strip have managed to smuggle in and domestically construct an assortment of relatively capable missiles, which, although lacking in technological sophistication, make up for in sheer quantity. Most importantly, for our topic today, much of the HAMAS stockpile has the range to target the pier.

The graphics on the previous page are from the Wilson Center shows the range of the HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) missile arsenals. As the graphic shows HAMAS has the Ayyash 250, which as the name suggests, has a range of 250km (~155 miles) putting it well within stiking distance of the port.

The Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Iranians all have many more advanced, destructive, and long-range missiles in their arsenals than Hamas, and these could be used to target the pier, harming American service members in the process.

There seems to be no logical reason to target the pier as long as it fulfils its mission to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza.  Nevertheless, the risk remains.  We aren’t always dealing with the most rational actors; rather, with increasingly desperate and radical individuals who have shown their willingness to attack civilian naval assets.

Indeed, even if the pier isn’t attacked, videos online of people storming aid convoys, desperate to get supplies, have been spreading. So this begs the question, will someone get desperate, brave, or stupid enough to try and storm the port? Only time will tell.

Many Americans, especially Republicans, have a growing isolationist tendency. Therefore, many have vocally opposed the U.S. deployment of forces to the region despite the humanitarian nature of their mission.

In summary, the proposal to build a port in Gaza represents a rare opportunity to alleviate suffering, promote prosperity, and advance peace in one of the world’s most troubled regions. While there remain daunting risks and challenges ahead in this operation, whether the potential rewards ultimately justify the effort remains unclear, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

About the Author
I did my BA at Mount Allison University in Canada, studying History & Political Science. Thereafter, I began to pursue a degree in Journalism but took a hiatus from school to accept numerous job offers. I got my start in writing working for ERETZ: the Magazine of Israel in Tel Aviv, Israel. From my homeland Canada I have been published by both the National Post, and Jewish Post & News. The paper I currently write for and help publish is The Jewish Post -the successor to the now defunct paper: The Jewish Post & News. As a researcher and writer, I believe that applying historical context along with an in-depth knowledge of regional identity and political ideologies is the best way to identify and explain current geopolitical trends as well as forecast growing tension and unrest in future areas of conflicts -militarily, politically, and economically.
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