US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that he has given orders for the Ford carrier strike group to proceed to the Eastern Mediterranean in order to be prepared to support Israel. This decision comes in the aftermath of the attack by Hamas, which has resulted in casualties exceeding 1,000 on both sides. There have been reports of Americans being among those killed and reported missing.
The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, and its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes will be accompanied by cruisers and destroyers in a show of force that is meant to be ready to respond to anything, from possibly interdicting additional weapons from reaching Hamas and conducting surveillance.
The large deployment reflects a US desire to deter any regional expansion of the conflict. But the Israeli government formally declared war Sunday and gave the green light for “significant military steps” to retaliate against Hamas.
Preliminary reports indicate that at least four American citizens were killed in the attacks and an additional seven were missing and unaccounted for, according to a US official. The numbers were in flux and could change as a fuller accounting is compiled, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss initial reports received by the US Embassy in Jerusalem. Most, if not all, of those reported dead or missing are dual US-Israeli citizens, the official said.
Along with the Ford the US is sending the cruiser USS Normandy and destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt, and the US is augmenting Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.
“The US maintains ready forces globally to further reinforce this deterrence posture if required,” Austin said in a statement.
In addition, the Biden administration “will be rapidly providing the Israel Defense Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions. The first security assistance will begin moving today and arriving in the coming days,” Austin said.
The Norfolk, Virginia-based carrier strike group (was already in the Mediterranean. Last week it was conducting naval exercises with Italy in the Ionian Sea. The carrier is in its first full deployment.
President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a telephone call Sunday, discussed “the taking of hostages by Hamas terrorists, including entire families, the elderly, and young children,” according to a White House statement describing their conversation. Biden stressed that all countries “must stand united in the face of such brutal atrocities.”
The president updated Netanyahu on US diplomatic efforts and said additional assistance for Israeli forces was on the way, with more to come in the days ahead, the White House said.
They also discussed ways “to ensure that no enemies of Israel believe they can or should seek advantage from the current situation.”
As part of the US effort to deter further escalation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. In each call, he encouraged each country’s “continued engagement” and “highlighted the United States’ unwavering focus on halting the attacks by Hamas and securing the release of all hostages,” department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in separate statements on the three calls.
On Capitol Hill, the House is preparing a bipartisan resolution that says it “stands with Israel” and condemns “Hamas’ brutal war.”
The resolution from the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to be among the first items considered for voting once the House elects a new speaker.
“Now is the time to show the world the United States firmly stands with our friend and ally Israel in our condemnation of this heinous attack by Iran-backed terrorists,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
House business is currently at a standstill after the historic ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Majority Republicans plan to kick off the selection process, in private, at a Tuesday evening forum where candidates can address their colleagues. The real contest could come as soon as Wednesday when the House next convenes.