Gaza aid worker tragedy risks overshadowing IDF efforts to protect humanitarian routes

The IDF has been devoting massive effort to securing aid routes, opening new routes and preparing to secure the pier to be constructed off the Gaza coast by the United States.

By Yaakov Lappin | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
A US Air Force airman prepares bundles of humanitarian aid, including more than 38,000 halal meals, destined for an airdrop over Gaza on March 7, 2024. Credit: US Air Force photo.
A US Air Force airman prepares bundles of humanitarian aid, including more than 38,000 halal meals, destined for an airdrop over Gaza on March 7, 2024. Credit: US Air Force photo.

Monday night’s unintentional Israeli drone strike on a World Central Kitchen aid convoy traveling along the Gaza coast, in which seven aid workers were killed, risks overshadowing a series of recent steps by the Israeli military to facilitate the flow of aid into the Strip.

Following the tragic incident, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held an assessment with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi on Tuesday, together with senior members of the defense establishment. Gallant referred to the tragic nature of the incident and emphasized the importance of conducting a thorough, professional investigation, which will be followed by the implementation of lessons learned.

“The minister reflected on the complex environment in which IDF troops are required to operate on a daily basis and acknowledged the importance of strengthening coordination mechanisms with key partners,” according to a statement from his office.

In addition to ordering a team to be set up immediately to investigate the incident, Gallant instructed the defense establishment to establish a joint situation room between the IDF’s Southern Command and the international aid organizations to better coordinate distribution of humanitarian goods in Gaza.  He also ordered the IDF to support distribution mechanisms by allocating appropriate resources, and to brief international organizations and partners on the details of the incident and subsequent actions being taken.

In recent months, the IDF had worked closely with WCK to distribute aid to Gazans. Earlier in the war, the organization came to the assistance of Israelis after the Oct. 7 mass murder assault. Indeed, according to IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, “they were one of the first NGOs here.” The work done by the organization “is critical; they are on the frontlines of humanity,” he said on Tuesday, adding, “We will get to the bottom of this and we will share our findings transparently.”

Monday’s tragedy occurred just as the IDF was growing into an expanded role with regard to the humanitarian effort in Gaza, increasingly protecting routes used by aid convoys, with an emphasis on northern Gaza. Convoys had previously struggled to reach northern Gaza, due to looting by Hamas and criminal gangs. As part of its efforts to address the challenge, the Israeli military is also opening new routes for aid trucks.

The expanded IDF effort also comes against the backdrop of the US floating pier initiative, for which the Israeli military will also be coordinating complex security arrangements. The initiative will involve ships carrying goods from Cyprus docking at a floating pier off the Gaza coast to be constructed by the United States, for distribution to multiple locations in Gaza.

The IDF is expanding its role with regard to aid distribution alongside ongoing ground operations against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad throughout the Strip. The Israeli War Cabinet has so far refrained from establishing a dedicated military administration in Gaza, likely due to concern that such an administration could push Israel into long-term civilian commitments in Gaza.

Some former defense officials have argued that establishing a temporary Israeli military administration would greatly weaken Hamas’s efforts to reestablish itself as a terror regime in Gaza. However, the War Cabinet has instead ordered the IDF to focus on securing aid routes and to coordinate security for multiple humanitarian aid initiatives.

On March 26, Politico reported that Israel had agreed to provide security for the floating pier and to establish a “security bubble” around it, defending American personnel building it and those taking part in offloading and distribution.

Israeli defense sources have confirmed that they are working with United States Central Command “around the clock” on securing the pier.

Last week, a US team arrived in Israel to examine how the aid will arrive from Cyprus after undergoing security screening by Israel.

The IDF is not only protecting humanitarian efforts on land and at sea, but also via its Iron Dome air defense batteries. Iron Dome is protecting ongoing airdrops being conducted by the US Air Force and the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

The IDF has also helped coordinate the construction of six field hospitals in Gaza, built by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and aid organizations, and is examining ways to build another two.

Gaza is already receiving significant humanitarian aid via ground convoys, but distribution of the supplies within the Strip has proven difficult.

The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit and the IDF have been working in recent weeks to find creative solutions to the distribution problem, including the sending of trucks into northern Gaza directly from Israel.

Between Oct. 7 and mid-March, Israel facilitated the entry of over 300,000 tons of food, water, medical supplies and other aid into the Gaza Strip via more than 16,000 trucks.

Between March 15 and March 25, the IDF enabled 1,322 trucks carrying 23,360 tons of aid to enter Gaza, while facilitating routes from southern to northern Gaza and opening new roads.

Northern Gaza, where some 300,000 people are believed to remain (despite IDF evacuation calls for them to move south) has been receiving some 30 aid trucks a day.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces continue to operate throughout Gaza, with the most high-profile recent activity being the two-week operation at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which ended on Monday.

At the Shifa compound, the military killed some 200 Hamas and PIJ terrorists and captured approximately 500, as well as hundreds of additional suspects that could be added to the latter figure following an identification process. Large quantities of intelligence are being gathered from questioning the terrorists and from scanning seized documents and computers.