On March 2, 2024, the United States (US) conducted its first airdrop of humanitarian assistance for Gaza. Three C-130 cargo planes dropped food in pallets over the Mediterranean coast of southwest Gaza.[1] This airdrop was carried out jointly with the Royal Jordanian Air Force, which has been conducting food airdrops in Gaza.

As a last resort, aid organizations utilize airdrops to reach vulnerable populations affected by political crises or natural disasters. As is the case in Gaza, politics can obstruct humanitarian access. However, it’s not just politics; environmental or logistical challenges can also hinder access. Extreme weather conditions or the absence of roads can make vulnerable populations unreachable. In these circumstances, aid organizations rely on airdrops to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance.

As Israel deliberately obstructs the delivery of food and aid supplies, the US decision to conduct airdrops of humanitarian assistance has prompted questions regarding both the US’s contrasting stance on alleviating human suffering in Gaza and the effectiveness of the airdrop operations. Why did the US, a close ally of Israel, opt for airdropping humanitarian aid instead of prioritizing a political solution to facilitate humanitarian assistance delivery?

During operations known as Authentic Assistance and King Grain in the 1970s, the United States executed one of the largest humanitarian airlift operations to provide aid to famine-affected regions in Africa, such as Mali and Chad.[2] These operations were primarily in response to restrictions imposed by host states and warring parties, hindering aid organizations’ access to affected populations. Concurrently, the United Nations also attempted to deliver humanitarian assistance through airdrops alongside similar operations conducted by national air forces. However, the effectiveness of these airdrops has been widely questioned due to concerns that this method often fails to ensure aid reaches its intended recipients. Additionally, it is both costly and hazardous.

Since October 7th, the US has consistently shielded Israel in the United Nations Security Council by vetoing resolutions pertaining to ceasefire and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance in Gaza. On February 20th, the US vetoed a resolution that sought unhindered humanitarian access into and throughout the entire Gaza Strip, along with the provision of humanitarian assistance. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, representing the United States at the United Nations, contended that passing the resolution would endanger ongoing efforts to negotiate a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas.[3]

Despite the rules of war that oblige the warring parties to allow and facilitate humanitarian access, humanitarian actors face multiple challenges and obstacles in reaching people in need of life-saving assistance. In conflict-ridden regions such as Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, and other areas where humanitarian access faces obstacles from warring factions, including the host state, aid organizations innovate and deploy diverse methods and strategies to assist vulnerable populations. Political backing from individual states, alongside support from regional and international organizations, serves as a crucial catalyst for aid actors in their endeavors to reach those in need.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions emphasizing unimpeded humanitarian access have long been a crucial leverage for aid organizations. Notably, through cross-border operations, such as those from Chad to Sudan’s Darfur region or from Turkey to northwestern Syria, aid organizations have reached millions of vulnerable people, providing essential and life-saving assistance.

In the case of Gaza, amid significant divergence in language choices within UNSC resolutions between the US and other member states, the US opted to deliver assistance through airdrops at a time when human suffering in Gaza is deemed “unmatched”. The US joined the bandwagon alongside the UK, France, Egypt, Jordan, and Belgium, all of which had previously conducted aid airdrops into Gaza. Aid organizations constantly stress that airdrops are an ineffective way of delivering aid.[4]

Despite questions surrounding their effectiveness, the US strategically employs airdrops to bolster its standing in the international arena, framing its actions as driven by altruistic intentions and a commitment to humanitarianism. However, the US strategy seeks to navigate around the conditions imposed by the Israeli government, a close ally whose policies have been shaped by its own political decisions. Put simply, Israel’s current blockade policy owes its existence to the support of the US. Currently, the US is striving to navigate around these obstacles by conducting humanitarian airdrops.

While this seemingly highlights inherent contradictions within US foreign policy, it also signals a shift in the US stance towards Israel’s actions in Gaza. President Biden recently cautioned Israel against a planned offensive into Gaza’s Rafah city. By conducting airdrop operations, the US is leveraging its influence to prompt Israel to reassess its blockade policies, which have been sustained partly due to US support. Ahead of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, the US will continue to push for a ceasefire.

As emphasized by UN aid chief Martin Griffiths, “life is draining out of Gaza at terrifying speed.”[5] The US, as a permanent member of the UNSC and a staunch ally of Israel, bears a clear legal and moral responsibility to prevent such atrocities under international law. Beyond this, rather than resorting to ineffective measures, Israel’s allies must take robust action to safeguard the people of Gaza and “prevent the disastrous course of action.”


[1] Henri Astier, “Israel-Gaza War: US Carries out Its First Aid Airdrop in Strip,” BBC News, March 3, 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-68457937.

[2] Daniel Haulman, “The United States Air Force and Humanitarian Airlift Operations 1947–1994,” Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998, https://media.defense.gov/2010/Oct/01/2001329744/-1/-1/0/AFD-101001-058.pdf.

[3] United Nations, “Security Council Seventy-Ninth Year 9552nd Meeting,” February 20, 2024, http://documents.un.org.

[4] Henri Astier, “Israel-Gaza War: US Carries out Its First Aid Airdrop in Strip,” BBC News, March 3, 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-68457937.

[5] Federica Marsi et al., “Israel’s War on Gaza Updates: ‘Life Draining out of Gaza’-UN on Aid Attack,” Al Jazeera, February 29, 2014, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2024/2/29/israels-war-on-gaza-live-mass-killing-of-children-in-slow-motion-ngo.