US sends warships, aid in show of force as Israel strikes back
The US is sending a group of warships to the eastern Mediterranean as Israel strikes back following a deadly holiday attack by Hamas militants that left hundreds dead.
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Sunday that following discussions with President Joe Biden, he directed the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the region. The group includes an aircraft carrier, a guided missile cruiser and guided missile destroyers.
Austin also said that the Pentagon would be sending additional aircraft to fighter squadrons in the region to enhance deterrent efforts. He said the US will be “rapidly” providing the Israeli military with additional equipment and supplies, including munitions, which will “begin moving today and arriving in the coming days”.
This aid “underscores the United States’ ironclad support for the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli people,” Austin said in a statement. “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.”
Earlier on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was considering Israeli requests for additional military aid after the sweeping attack by Hamas.
The US also is looking into reports that US citizens were killed or taken hostage and into whether Iran may have been directly involved in the surprise attack, though there’s no immediate evidence of that, he said in interviews with multiple US networks on Sunday.
“In this moment, we don’t have anything that shows us that Iran was directly involved in this attack, in planning it or in carrying it out,” Blinken said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “But that’s something we’re looking at very carefully, and we’ve got to see where the facts lead. But we do know that Iran’s had a long relationship with Hamas, long support.”
A key question is how the US could militarily help after the attack, which has killed more than 600 Israelis and prompted the country to formally declare it’s at war.
Blinken cited a memorandum of understanding signed under former President Barack Obama to provide Israel with $3.8-billion a year in US military assistance, suggesting that immediate action by Congress — where the House’s Republican majority is embroiled in an election for the chamber’s new speaker — might not be needed.
“There’s a tremendous amount of aid and assistance already in the pipeline,” Blinken said on NBC. “At the same time, Israel has come to us and asked for some specific additional assistance.”
Biden said Saturday he made it clear to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US is ready “to offer all appropriate means of support” to Israel’s government and its people.
“These are early days,” Blinken said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Israel has to, first and foremost, ensure the security of its people in Israel, and then it’s determined to take steps to try to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
On ABC’s This Week, Blinken put the number of Hamas militants who infiltrated Israel at about 1,000. At the same time, he called for Israeli restraint.
“Whatever Israel does in Gaza, as always, we look to it to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties,” though there’s “absolutely no comparison” to Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians, Blinken said on CBS.
US Republican lawmakers expressed confidence that aid to Israel has bipartisan support in Congress, even as the party battles over its leadership in the House after last week’s vote that removed Kevin McCarthy as speaker.
“Right now, the president has plenty of authorities under existing law to transfer a weapon or to provide mission planning or intelligence support to Israel,” Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, said on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures.
Support could include supplies such as missile interceptors, artillery shells or small arms ammunition, Cotton said. It might also mean help with mission planning or intelligence support.
Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican running for House speaker, said his first action, if elected to the post, would be to bring Israeli aid to the floor.
“I want to give them what they need to win,” Jordan said on the Fox News show. “This is our great friend and great ally, the state of Israel. So I think that’s what’s front and centre.”