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Boots on a pier are the same as on the ground

This blog is not in the habit of praising Florida Republican representative Matt Gaetz, but you’ve got to give credit where it is due. About a week ago, Gaetz questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during a House Armed Services Committee hearing and got Austin to concede that hostile forces in the Gaza Strip may well fire at the pier, and U.S. service members involved in installing it may be forced to return fire.

But, Austin insisted to Gaetz and the country, just because U.S. forces and hostile forces might end up shooting at one another, that doesn’t represent a violation of President Biden’s “no boots on the ground” pledge. Austin really is going with the “boots aren’t on the ground, they’re just offshore” spin.

First, Michigan Democratic representative Elissa Slotkin asked Austin about just what the procedures are if U.S. forces get attacked by Hamas or anyone else:

Rep. Slotkin: For the pier that’s being set up, as I understand it, as many as a thousand U.S. uniformed officers are going to be involved in setting up that pier. A smaller number will be resident there. If we are shot at, if more artillery is shot at us, who is responding, and with what operating procedures is that military responding?

Secretary Austin: I’ve — [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] general [Charles] Brown and I have spent quite a bit of time with [U.S. Central Command commander] general [Michael] Kurillla, working through our force protection plan, and I’m confident that he’s put the right measures in place.

Rep. Slotkin: Will the Israelis be responding if the United States is shot at?

Secretary Austin: Israelis will provide additional security in the area, that’s right.

Rep. Slotkin: I just think, given the differences I think we have with the Israelis on civilian casualties, we better get right clear about what the response is going to be when we are shot at, since I don’t think many Americans feel that it reflects the same values that we have here.

Whether you agree with Slotkin’s characterization of the Israelis or not, she’s right to want clear answers about who does what if additional mortars are fired at the spot where the pier is supposed to be installed.

Also note that Slotkin used the word “when” and not “if” U.S. forces are attacked. Judging from senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya’s comments to the Associated Press on April 25, U.S. forces should expect to come under fire from Hamas:

Al-Hayya also implicitly threatened that Hamas would attack Israeli or other forces who might be stationed around a floating pier the U.S. is scrambling to build along Gaza’s coastline to deliver aid by sea.

“We categorically reject any non-Palestinian presence in Gaza, whether at sea or on land, and we will deal with any military force present in these places, Israeli or otherwise . . . as an occupying power,” he said.

A few moments later, Gaetz’s turn questioning Austin revealed that the Secretary of Defense did not believe that U.S. troops “in residence” counted as “boots on the ground”:

Rep. Gaetz: [Representative] Slotkin just said there’ll be about 1,000 U.S. service members operating a pier system off of Gaza. How many of them will have guns? Mr. Secretary?

Secretary Austin: Typically, all of the deployed service members carry, service members carry guns and they have the ability to protect themselves if challenged.

Rep. Gaetz: So, if someone from land in Gaza shoots at our service members, who are on the $320 million pier that we’re building, you’re telling me our service members can shoot back?

Secretary Austin: They have the — they have the right to return fire to protect themselves. Now, again–

Rep. Gaetz: Now, do we do that’s like — so now want to move to the likelihood that we think someone from land and Gaza might shoot at our service members on this pier? Do you think that — that’s a likely scenario?

Secretary Austin: That’s possible. Yes.

Rep. Gaetz: This is a very telling moment, Mr. Secretary, because you’ve said something that’s “quite possible.” That could happen right? Shots from Gaza, on our service members, and then the response, our armed service members shooting live fire into Gaza. That is a possible outcome here so that we can become the Port Authority and run this pier. Right?

Secretary Austin: That’s correct. And I expect that we will always have the ability–

Rep. Gaetz: You think that counts as boots on the ground? President Biden told the country that we weren’t going to have boots on the ground in Gaza.

Secretary Austin: And we won’t.

Rep. Gaetz: Okay, but you guys parse the distinction between — like when Americans think boots on the ground, they think Americans in harm’s way, or engaged actively in a conflict. You guys seem to be sort of saying that boots on a pier, connected to the ground, connected to service members shooting into Gaza, doesn’t count as boots on the ground?

Secretary Austin: It does not.

Rep. Gaetz: I think they’re gonna find the American people have a different perspective on that. And if we’re gonna have people shoot into Gaza, we probably should have a vote on that pursuant to our war powers.

There are actually two piers; one is the “Trident pier section,” or the causeway which is the component that will eventually be anchored to the Gaza shore, and the second is the floating pier. Credit the U.S. military for being able to assemble the components for the piers quickly. Back on April 24, the Pentagon press secretary, Air Force Major General Pat Ryder, said that no part of that movable pier for the Gaza Strip had been built yet.

Yesterday, Sabrina Singh, deputy Pentagon press secretary, said that the two piers are now built; they are floating on the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel near the Port of Ashdod — about 18 miles north of Gaza:

As of today, the U.S. military has completed the offshore construction of the Trident Pier section, or the causeway, which is the component that will eventually be anchored to the Gaza Shore. And as I mentioned last week, construction of the floating pier section has also been completed. So as of today, the construction of the two portions of the JLOTS, the floating pier and the Trident pier, are complete and awaiting final movement offshore.

As you know, late last week, CENTCOM temporarily paused moving the floating pier and Trident Pier toward the vicinity of Gaza due to sea state considerations. Today, there are still forecasted high winds and high sea swells which are causing unsafe conditions for the JLOTS components to be moved, so the pier sections and military vessels involved in its construction are still positioned at the Port of Ashdod. Military vessels involved in its construction are still positioned at the Port of Ashdod. However, as CENTCOM stands by to move the pier into position in the near future, and again, in partnership with USAID, we’re loading humanitarian aid onto the MV Sagamore, which is currently in Cyprus. The Sagamore is a cargo vessel that will use the JLOTS system and will make trips between Cyprus and the offshore floating pier as USAID and other partners collect aid from around the world.

Singh said the aim was to have the pier in place, “later this week, but that does depend of course on the environmental conditions and if — and security conditions as well, but right now, we’re focused on the environmental conditions surrounding the anchoring of that pier.”

On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said:

A ceasefire doesn’t have to be in place for the pier to operate. Now, obviously, somewhat — it’s a whole heck of a lot easier if there’s no fighting going on. But it doesn’t have to be.

In fact, one of the big issues that we are still working out is what the force protection laydown would look like and how the — not — not just the people operating the pier but the material itself can be safe from any — any attack.

Meanwhile, NPR points out that the international-relief community dismisses the pier as a “performative” operation that is too small to make a real difference and that appears designed to get the Biden administration some public-relations wins:

Questions remain about whether this will be a successful operation. Senior military officials say tens of thousands of desperate residents could cluster at the end of the causeway, snarling the trucks and denying much needed aid.

There are also security concerns. Recently two mortars landed in the marshaling area in Gaza that will receive the trucks, causing minor damage. . . .

While U.S. officials have described the pier as a supplement — not a replacement — for existing aid distribution efforts, humanitarian aid groups say that the port is a “performative” aid operation that will make minimal headway in addressing the humanitarian crisis in the region.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, an independent research institute in Ramallah, conducted a survey of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in March. It found that 71 percent of Palestinian respondents said Hamas’s decision to launch the October 7 attacks was the correct one. When asked who was to blame for the ongoing war, 64 percent blamed Israel, 20 percent blamed the United States, and just 7 percent blamed Hamas.

Got that? About three times as many Palestinians think the war is your fault as think the war is Hamas’s fault.

The survey found “almost all Palestinians think Israel is committing war crimes while almost all believe Hamas is not committing war crimes in the current war. Moreover, more than 90 percent believe that Hamas did not commit any atrocities against Israel civilians during its October the 7th offensive.” And when it comes to opinion of other countries, “The highest level of satisfaction goes to Russia (19 percent, 21 percent in the West Bank and 16 percent in the Gaza Strip), followed by the United Nations (7 percent), and the US (1 percent).”

Why are we putting U.S. men and women in uniform in harm’s way to help people who hate us and love Hamas?

Why is the Biden administration putting so much time, money, and effort into helping a Gaza population that largely loathes us and adores the bastards who take innocent civilians hostage, and refuses to believe that Hamas did anything wrong? At the absolute minimum, it would be more than reasonable for the U.S. to make its relief efforts contingent on Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and every other terrorist group in the Gaza Strip pledging to not attempt to kill any Americans.

Or we could demand that Hamas, you know, release the five American hostages that it has been holding for seven months.

We know what is at least possible, if not downright likely. Hamas or some other extremist group will find that pier, the U.S. troops, and the aid workers to be a tempting target and will fire mortars at them or attempt to use a speedboat full of explosives like in the U.S.S. Cole attack, or make some other effort to kill people who just want to help Palestinians. Americans will be injured or killed in the attack. And the moment U.S. forces come under attack, the American public tends to turn on overseas-relief missions. We saw it in Lebanon and Somalia.

Why does it feel like the U.S. isn’t respected anywhere in the world? Because our leaders choose to act like a bunch of chumps, that’s why.

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