The United States is sending its newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, along with a full carrier strike group, to support Israel following a terror attack that killed hundreds of civilians.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in a statement Sunday the U.S. is moving the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to “strengthen Department of Defense posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts.”
The USS Gerald R. Ford and its more than 4,000 sailors were first deployed last year. Described by U.S. Navy officials as, "America's biggest and baddest warship," it boasts a redesigned flight deck that allows it to generate 30% more flights than any other U.S. carrier.
The Ford will be accompanied by a guided missile cruiser and five guided missile destroyers.
In addition, Austin said the U.S. is taking steps to augment U.S. Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the Middle East.
And he said the U.S. will be providing the Israeli military with additional equipment, resources and munitions, set to arrive in the coming days, something the Pentagon said Austin reiterated to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a call Sunday.
“Strengthening our joint force posture, in addition to the material support that we will rapidly provide to Israel, underscores the United States' ironclad support for the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli people,” Austin said in the statement.
A separate statement from U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, said the U.S. is prepared to move in additional forces and supplies, if needed.
Central Command “stands firmly with our Israeli and regional partners to address the risks of any party seeking to expand the conflict," said General Michael Kurilla.
The U.S. moves come just a day after senior U.S. officials promised unwavering support to Israel as it sought to repel the Hamas terror attack.
The officials left open the possibility that the U.S. help could involve restocking Israel’s Iron Dome short range missile system or giving Israel access to a U.S. weapons and ammunition stockpile based in Israel, something it has done in 2006 and again in 2014.
The decision to strengthen its military posture in the region follows a similar show of force in July, when the U.S. sent F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, a naval destroyer and an amphibious assault group that included 2,500 U.S. Marines to the Persian Gulf in response to a series of Iranian attacks on commercial shipping.
U.S. military officials have said the decision to boost U.S. forces in July paid dividends, seeming to deter Iranian efforts.
But some analysts are already warning that U.S. support to Israel may need to be more substantial, especially if other terrorist groups, like the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, enters the fray.
"Back in 2006, Hezbollah had an arsenal of ~15k missiles (the most sophisticated provided by Iran). Today, it has 10x that number," Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism and insurgencies expert on the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations wrote on X.
"The danger of a two front war for Israel or perhaps 3-front if the West Bank erupts in violence, begins to assume existential dimensions," he added.
“Hezbollah — we've been tracking for quite a while — that it's been stockpiling PGMs or precision-guided munitions,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the senior vice president for research at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “These are incredibly lethal weapons that can be steered and targeted using GPS and other means to be able to have direct hits on strategic targets inside Israel.”
He said other groups, including Hamas, also appear to have benefited from Iranian help.
“What we're watching is a buildup across the board with Iranian proxies,” Schanzer said. “We are certainly at a dangerous stage right now, with a lot of these militant organizations gaining skills that we have not seen in the past.”
Carla Babb contributed to this report.