Mar 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Inside José Andrés' risky mission to get food to Gaza

José Andrés unloads food packages from a World Central Kitchen truck in Kherson, Ukraine, in 2022.

José Andrés unloads food packages from a World Central Kitchen truck in Kherson, Ukraine, in 2022. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

José Andrés, the celebrity chef and founder of World Central Kitchen, is working with the United Arab Emirates to land amphibious crafts, loaded with food, on the shores of Gaza, people familiar with the plan tell Axios.

Why it matters: The need for humanitarian aid in Gaza as the Israel-Hamas war continues is critical and acute — about 1.7 million people have been displaced, the UN reports. Andrés' aid plan is ambitious and untested.

  • Recognizing that aid to Gaza has been dangerously deficient, President Biden has ordered the U.S. military to build a temporary port in Gaza to receive shipments by sea.
  • But that project will take weeks to complete, so the U.S. government's aid delivered by sea won't arrive until late this month at the earliest. Officials have stressed that U.S. boots won't be on the ground.
  • U.S. officials, frustrated by the international community's inability to deliver aid overland to Gaza, have started airdropping food and other humanitarian aid there.

Diving the news: The UAE and Andrés have been working on a faster — but riskier — solution. Their relief supplies could land in Gaza within a few days, delivered by ships arriving from Cyprus.

  • "We are working with the urgency of now," he told Axios.
  • "It's worth trying. We have to try," he said, hinting at the massive logistical and technical challenges involved in a beach landing. "If we succeed, everybody is helped."
  • "A maritime corridor with ongoing shipments is the only way to deliver large quantities of aid into Gaza," said Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to Washington. "All parties must support this humanitarian mission."

Between the lines: If Hamas and Israel agree to a ceasefire, it would be easier for more trucks and supplies to cross into Gaza by land. The urgency for a maritime route from Cyprus wouldn't be as pressing.

  • That makes Biden's planned port an ominous sign that a ceasefire is unlikely to happen before the start of Ramadan next week.

The big picture: Five months into the war, UN officials are warning of a potential famine.

  • The humanitarian needs in Gaza are unlikely to be met by sporadic overland crossings or airdrops like those the U.S. military began last weekend.
  • Biden used his State of the Union address to amplify Vice President Harris' call for an "immediate ceasefire."

Zoom in: For several weeks, Andres' World Central Kitchen has been working with the Spanish NGO, Open Arms — as well as Cyprus, Israel and the UN — to establish a maritime relief bridge between Cyprus and Gaza.

  • The tentative plan is to sail Open Arms' flagship from Larnaca, the port in Cyprus close to the Gazan shore — and then transfer tons of food in its hold to smaller crafts and barges. They'll land on beaches in northern Gaza, where the need for food is the most urgent.
  • UN agencies are expected to help in moving the cargo to trucks to distribute it in northern Gaza, sources said.
  • The UAE is helping to fund the operation as part of its ongoing efforts to aid Palestinians suffering because of the war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's military adviser visited Abu Dhabi a few days ago to discuss the operation, which Israel's government supports, the sources said.

  • A day later Emirati military officials visited Israel to continue the discussion on the details of the operation.
  • Israeli officials said the Israeli military is expected to secure the barge and the landing area.

What to watch: Israeli officials said the biggest challenge will be what happens once trucks deliver the aid.

  • Some aid deliveries by land have been looted and as desperate Palestinians converged on the trucks. Last week, dozens were killed after Israeli forces opened fire troops on a crowd in a chaotic scene in northern Gaza.
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