A satellite image shows an overview of trident pier, on the Gaza shoreline May 26, 2024. / Photo: Reuters

By Nadia Ahmad

The United States' effort to provide Palestinians humanitarian aid via a freshly constructed pier off the coast of Gaza is not going well. The $320 million project, which took two months to build, was only operational for a week in May, before breaking apart due to bad weather. It's now undergoing repairs.

Providing humanitarian aid to Israel-hit Gaza appears noble on the surface. However, a closer look suggests ulterior motives are at play that could further destabilise the region and reshape the energy landscape in favour of American corporate interests.

Given the oil and gas sector's history of obstructive lobbying practices, the White House's pier could be a Trojan horse, concealing plans that will further entrench conflict and inequality.

The pier fits into a pattern by the US when it comes to selective engagement and hidden agendas, especially where oil and gas deposits are in play. This includes the escalating geopolitical tensions between Ecuador and Mexico and between Guyana and Venezuela.

US military presence

The Gaza pier also adds to Secretary of State Antony Blinken's track record in the Middle East of perpetuating war under the guise of diplomacy. Despite promises to end "forever wars" and champion human rights, the Biden administration's actions have fallen exceedingly short.

The pier's effectiveness in significantly alleviating Gaza's humanitarian crisis is questionable. Most aid flows through border crossings, and the Israeli blockade at these remains in place, severely restricting movement and access to basic necessities.

Thus, building the pier is akin to plugging a dike with a finger. More concerning is the accompanying increase in US military presence and the implications for regional gas agreements.

The deployment of 1,000 additional American troops, ostensibly to assist with aid efforts, raises red flags given the US's substantial military support for Israel. This bolstering of forces near Gaza could be an attempt to further American and Israeli strategic interests, including exploiting untapped offshore gas reserves.

This could hold particularly true for Chevron, which has been involved in gas exploration off Israel's coast and has partnered with Israeli companies on major projects.

Blinken testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington May 21, 2024/ Photo: Reuters

While President Donald Trump tapped ExxonMobil's former CEO Rex Tillerson as his first Secretary of State, Biden has trusted Blinken, who formerly consulted on Chevron, for his skills in energy diplomacy.

With an astounding 75 trips to 84 countries by the end of last month, Blinken exemplifies the power of a polished diplomat. His sophisticated style, balanced features, and clear communication project reliability, foster trust, and facilitate international engagement.

Yet behind this impeccable facade lies the influence of major transnational corporations and their insatiable appetite for oil and gas.

As Blinken jet-sets around the globe, his actions are reflective of the US administration prioritising corporate interests over human rights, while turning a blind eye to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. If Blinken had a diplomatic slogan, it would read, "Wheels up. Bombs away. Pump out the barrels!"

Chevron's stake

The Gaza pier, and increased US military presence, could pave the way for Chevron to expand into Gaza's waters at the expense of Palestinian environmental and land rights. Israel's territorial expansion into Gaza could provide Chevron land rights that would translate to offshore oil and gas rights for further energy operations.

Control over these gas reserves would significantly alter the regional balance of power with Chevron and American energy companies poised to benefit, while heightening tensions over resources. Allowing Israel to broaden its energy footprint and the US to widen its boot print are against the long-term economic and strategic interests of regional nations.

Chevron has a history of meddling in environmental lawsuits and human rights interventions, especially where oil and gas plays are involved. WestExec Advisors, a secretive consulting firm founded in 2017 by Blinken and Michèle Flournoy, raised concerns about transparency and potential influence on federal expenditures when it became known as "Biden's Cabinet in waiting."

Soon after Biden assumed power in February 2021, Myanmar's military overthrew its democratically elected government. Chevron, which had a longstanding relationship with a state-owned company connected to the military generals, successfully lobbied against sanctions that would have disrupted the military's operations.

As another example, Chevron evaded a $9.5 billion judgement against it in Ecuador for oil pollution by filing a RICO lawsuit against lawyer Steven Donzinger. A Manhattan judge overruled Ecuador's Supreme Court, rendering the judgement unenforceable.

Fast forward to 2024. At this year's World Economic Forum, Blinken discussed the potential aftermath of the war in Gaza and the historic shift in the Middle East, emphasising the necessity of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Meanwhile Chevron CEO Michael Wirth expressed concerns about risks to oil shipments and potential price increases.

The Biden administration's apparent reluctance to intervene in human rights issues in Myanmar and Israel, coupled with the presence of former WestExec Advisors employees in key positions, raises concerns about the prioritisation of corporate interests over human rights.

The precedent previously set by Chevron when it comes to the prioritisation of oil interests suggests that the company's influence within the administration might have shaped foreign policy decisions in a manner that benefited the company's bottom line.

MENA response

In the face of these developments, Middle East and North African countries must act decisively to counter American and Israeli moves. An oil blockade targeting Israel could be a powerful tool, hitting them where it hurts economically.

Countries should also consider imposing sanctions on Israel to pressure them to end the blockade of Gaza and stop the exploitation of Palestinian resources.

With the US presidential election fast approaching, now is the time for MENA nations to exert maximum diplomatic pressure, learning from Blinken. Anything is possible in an election year, and both parties will be eager to avoid foreign policy crises.

Playing a waiting game is not an option - the people of Gaza cannot afford to wait as their suffering deepens, and their resources are stolen by California-based Chevron.

Blinken's diplomacy has been marked by selective engagement with overtures towards certain Muslim nations, contrasting with tightening sanctions on others. The administration's tepid response to refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere reveals its prioritisation of geopolitical and corporate interests over humanitarian ones.

For true progress, Blinken and Biden must act transparently, prioritising Palestinians' needs and the equitable sharing of resources. Such course correction means ending the blockade, making long-term investments, supporting Palestinian self-determination and statehood, and ending extractivism that harms indigenous and local communities.

Peace and stability require accountability for the Israel's genocidal war and a balanced approach to regional energy cooperation, not militarisation and resource exploitation masquerading as aid.

Only by prioritising justice, self-determination, environmental sovereignty, and humanitarian concern over the profits of companies like Chevron can we hope to break the cycle of suffering in Gaza and the region. The world sees through the veneer of American diplomacy – it's time for MENA countries to act decisively before it's too late.

Nadia Ahmad is a law professor based in Orlando, Florida, and Fellow at the Rutgers Center for Security, Race, and Rights, and Ph.D. Candidate at Yale University in Environmental Studies. She is the co-founder of Ceasefire 2024.

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