The United States is expanding its military presence near Israel | ET REALITY

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The Pentagon is rapidly doubling the amount of U.S. firepower deployed in the Middle East in an effort to deter a broader regional war and carry out potential airstrikes to defend U.S. interests, U.S. officials said Sunday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement late Saturday that he had ordered a second aircraft carrier, the Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the eastern Mediterranean to join the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any country.” efforts to expand this war” after Hamas’ attack on Israel last weekend. The Eisenhower is expected to arrive in the next few days.

The Air Force is also sending additional ground attack aircraft to the Persian Gulf region, doubling the number of F-16, A-10 and F-15E squadrons on the ground. Combined with the four squadrons of F/A-18 aircraft aboard each carrier, the United States will have an air armada of more than 100 attack aircraft, officials said.

The Pentagon has also sent a small team of Special Operations forces to Israel to assist with intelligence and planning any operations to help locate and rescue the 150 hostages Hamas is believed to be holding, including some Americans.

For now, U.S. officials said, the deployment of additional forces is intended to deter Iran, Syria or any Iranian-backed proxy group, such as Hezbollah, from joining the conflict. But as Israeli troops massed near the Gaza border on Sunday, preparing for a likely ground invasion amid international pleas to carry out any operations with restraint, American commanders expressed fears that the United States could be drawn into the conflict. .

The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials are closely monitoring Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, as well as Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria that have periodically carried out attacks against U.S. military personnel based in both countries.

After a U.S. civilian contractor was killed and six other Americans wounded in March in northeastern Syria by a drone that U.S. officials said was of “Iranian origin,” President Biden ordered two F-15E fighter jets to retaliate by launching airstrikes against linked militant sites. to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran. That led Iranian-backed militias to launch a barrage of rocket and drone attacks that wounded another American.

American warplanes were about to carry out a second round of retaliatory strikes, but the White House refrained. Since then, militia threats against Americans have decreased. But that could change with an Israeli invasion of Gaza, US officials say.

The Ford was already in the Mediterranean when Austin last week ordered the warship to head to the eastern part of the sea, closer to Israel. Ford carries four squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, as well as electronic warfare and command and control aircraft. The aircraft carrier is also accompanied by warships armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Eisenhower has a similar group of attack aircraft and warships.

The promise of additional military power was intended to reassure Israelis of the United States’ commitment to their security and demonstrate resolve to Hamas and other Israeli adversaries in the region. It comes despite months of tension between Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel over the prime minister’s pursuit of judicial reforms that critics say are undemocratic.

The additional deployments also reinvigorate American power in the region, at least temporarily. The US military presence in the region has been reducing as the years-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end, and in response to the Biden administration’s stated shift to focus on long-term threats from China, as well like in the war in Ukraine.

Austin met with Israeli leaders on Friday and reassured them of US support in the first week of their war against Hamas.

Arriving from Brussels, where he was attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Austin was able to see firsthand some of the weapons and security aid that the Biden administration has rushed to Israel. A second shipment of weapons arrived on Friday, Israeli officials said.

The Pentagon has sent Israel interceptors for its Iron Dome missile defense system, as well as 250-pound “small diameter bombs” designed to reduce the chance of civilian casualties in a dense urban battlefield like Gaza, artillery shells and other ammunition, officials said.

Asked about the likelihood of civilian casualties in Gaza as Israeli troops prepared to mount a major ground attack there, Austin said Israel had the right to defend itself. He added that he had worked with Israeli forces over the years when he was a top army general.

“They are professional, disciplined and focused on the right things,” he told reporters after meeting for nearly two hours with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, and the Israeli war cabinet.

The United States provides Israel with more than $3 billion in military assistance each year, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said that much of the equipment from that funding is already “in preparation” to be sent to Israel. The Pentagon has also placed stockpiles of weapons and ammunition worth about $2 billion at about six sites in Israel. The stockpile provides weapons and ammunition for the Pentagon to use in Middle East conflicts, and the United States has also given Israel access to supplies in emergency situations.

The use of the reserves is established in a “double key” agreement in which both countries approve their use. For example, the Pentagon, with Israel’s permission, has tapped the vast but little-known arsenal to help meet Ukraine’s dire need for artillery shells in the war with Russia.

Austin said in Brussels that the United States would not put conditions on how Israeli troops use American weapons in their fight against Hamas.

“Our goal is to make sure that we give Israel what it needs to protect itself,” he said.

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