Pentagon Chief Says US Military Will Send Ships Closer to Israel

A number of U.S. military ships and aircraft will be deployed closer to Israel in the near future, it was announced.

Pentagon Chief Says US Military Will Send Ships Closer to Israel
Middle East

US Military to Send Ships Closer as Israel Declares 'State of War'

A number of U.S. military ships and aircraft will be deployed closer to Israel in the near future, it was announced.

The U.S. military will send ships and aircraft closer to Israel's coast, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday, coming after a series of Hamas attacks on southern Israel over the weekend.

Earlier Sunday, a statement issued by the Israeli Prime Minister's office said the country's Security Cabinet declared a "state of war" after the Hamas attacks. It's the first such declaration since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

A statement issued by Mr. Austin on Sunday said that he directed the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea, or closer to the Israeli coast. That includes the USS Gerald R. Ford Navy aircraft carrier, a guided missile cruiser, guided-missile destroyers, and a range of different fighter jets.

"We have also taken steps to augment U.S. Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region," the Pentagon chief's statement said. "The United States maintains ready forces globally to further reinforce this deterrence posture if required."

The U.S. government will also quickly provide the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with more equipment, ammunition, and other resources. That security package, according to the DOD, will arrive in "the coming days."

"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," Mr. Austin said. "My team and I will continue to be in close contact with our Israeli counterparts to ensure they have what they need to protect their citizens and defend themselves against these heinous terrorist attacks.

It comes after the attack by the Hamas terrorist group that was launched at dawn on Saturday, which represented the biggest and deadliest incursion into Israel since Egypt and Syria launched a sudden assault in an effort to reclaim lost territory in the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago. At least 600 people were killed on Saturday and Sunday, according to reports by Israeli TV stations; Israel has not released an official death toll.

Israeli air strikes hit housing blocks, tunnels, a mosque and homes of Hamas officials in Gaza, killing more than 370 people, including 20 children, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed "mighty vengeance for this black day." In a sign the conflict could spread beyond blockaded Gaza, Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militia exchanged artillery and rocket fire, while in Alexandria, two Israeli tourists were shot dead along with their Egyptian guide.

In southern Israel, Hamas forces were still fighting Israeli security forces 24 hours after a surprise, multi-pronged assault of rocket barrages and bands of gunmen who overran army bases and invaded border towns.

Palestinian fighters escaped back into Gaza with dozens of hostages, including both soldiers and civilians. Hamas said it would issue a statement later on Sunday saying how many captives it had seized.

"The cruel reality is Hamas took hostages as an insurance policy against Israeli retaliatory action, particularly a massive ground attack and to trade for Palestinian prisoners," Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters. "Will it constrain how Israel responds? If the numbers are great, how could it not?" he asked.

About 30 missing Israelis attending a dance party that was targeted during Saturday's attack emerged from hiding on Sunday, Israeli media reported. Some of those who were kidnapped were filmed while going past Gaza security checkpoints---with some bleeding or visibly injured.

More Support?

President Joe Biden told Mr. Netanyahu during a Sunday morning call that additional assistance for the IDF is now on its way, according to a readout of a call between the two world leaders provided by the White House. In part, the two spoke about Hamas hostage-taking incidents, including families, children, and elderly people.

President Biden, the readout said, "emphasized that there is no justification whatsoever for terrorism, and all countries must stand united in the face of such brutal atrocities."

The American president also "updated the Prime Minister on the intensive diplomatic engagement undertaken by the United States over the last 24 hours in support of Israel," according to the statement, adding that the security assistance will arrive in Israel in the coming days. They also spoke about efforts to "ensure that no enemies of Israel" will take advantage of the security gap.

Western countries, led by the United States, unilaterally denounced the Hamas attack. President Biden issued a blunt warning to Iran and other countries: "This is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks."

Among GOP presidential candidates, many criticized the Biden administration over the matter, with some saying that the White House has taken a relatively lax approach to security in the region.

“We brought so much peace to the Middle East through the Abraham Accords, only to see Biden whittle it away at a far more rapid pace than anyone thought possible. Here we go again,” former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for 2024's election, said in a statement. He was referring to a series of policies that were intended to bolster relationships between multiple countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another GOP candidate, accused President Biden of "sleeping on the job," claiming the president was asleep while the attacks occurred. "You can’t be sleeping on the job. You’ve got to get there, you’ve got to do it, and you’ve got to engage," he said. Reuters contributed to this report.