WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States will send multiple military ships and aircraft closer to Israel as a show of support, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, with Washington believing Hamas’ deadly attacks may have been motivated to disrupt a potential normalizing of Israel-Saudi Arabia ties.
Hamas fighters rampaged through Israeli towns as the country suffered its bloodiest day in decades on Saturday. Israel battered Palestinians with airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday, with hundreds reportedly killed on both sides. The spiraling violence threatens to start a major new war in the Middle East.
At least three Americans were among those killed, CNN reported on Sunday, citing a U.S. memo.
Austin in a statement said he ordered the moving of the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean closer to Israel. The force includes the carrier, a guided-missile cruiser and four guided-missile destroyers.
Austin also said the United States had also taken steps to augment U.S. Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region. He said the United States would also provide munitions to Israel.
U.S. President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that additional assistance for the Israeli Defense Forces was on its way to Israel and more would follow in the coming days, the White House said after their call. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris also held a call with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
The Pentagon in a later statement said Austin spoke to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to update him on U.S. responses and “to express support for the people of Israel and to receive updates on Israel’s operation to restore security and safety from Hamas’ terrorist attack.”
“The Secretary reaffirmed the unwavering support of the United States for Israel’s right to defend itself,” the statement said. It said Austin underscored that the U.S. steps “were taken to strengthen the U.S. military posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts.”
A few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at Times Square in New York City and near the White House in Washington on Sunday, expressing opposition to the U.S.’s support of Israel.
Some protesters carried banners saying “End U.S. aid” and “Resistance is not terrorism.” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Saturday had condemned plans for such demonstrations, saying they were “morally repugnant.”
The attack by Hamas launched at dawn on Saturday 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.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise that part of the motivation may have been to disrupt efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel together, along with other countries that may be interested in normalizing relations with Israel,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on Sunday, in regard to the attacks.
Hamas on Saturday said the strikes were driven by what it called escalated Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as against Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had highlighted threats to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the continuation of an Israeli blockade on Gaza, and Israeli normalization with countries in the region.
Netanyahu last month said he believed his country was on the cusp of peace with Saudi Arabia, predicting that the move could reshape the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s two holiest shrines, has long insisted on the Palestinians’ right to statehood as a condition of recognizing Israel — something many members of Netanyahu’s nationalist religious coalition have long resisted.
The United States on Sunday said that Saudi-Israel normalization efforts should continue despite the latest attack.
“We think it would be in both countries’ interests to continue to pursue this possibility,” U.S. deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told Fox News Sunday.
Blinken labeled the attack on Israel as a “terrorist attack by a terrorist organization.”
Blinken added that there was relative calm on Sunday in most of Israel but intense fighting in Gaza, an Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave that has witnessed weeks of protests by youth groups due to longtime grievances related to the Israeli military occupation, the Palestinian national cause and prolonged economic strife.
He added that there was not yet any evidence seen by the United States of Iran being behind the latest attack in Israel, but he noted the long-standing ties between Iran and Hamas, which governs Gaza.
Source : Asia Nikkei