The Biden administration announced on Oct. 8 that it would deploy the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s most advanced and largest aircraft carrier, to the Eastern Mediterranean as a show of support for Israel. “We’ll make sure that they have the help their citizens need and they can continue to defend themselves,” U.S. President Joe Biden said.
While Biden’s team is using the deployment as diplomatic and military virtue signaling, it is not clear that the carrier strike group’s presence will be a benefit.
What exactly is the carrier and its complement of men and aircraft supposed to do? U.S. fighters are not going to attack the Gaza Strip. Israel does not need access to the Ford’s radar. Even the carrier’s anti-missile capabilities would be redundant now that Israel is on full alert.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the quiet part aloud when he spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, mastermind of the Turkey-Hamas alliance, and encouraged Fidan’s call for a ceasefire. Blinken’s gut reaction was to prevent Israel from retaliating for the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
Supporters of the Jewish state and the Israel-U.S. partnership should worry. During the Obama administration, as the Iranian nuclear program accelerated, Israeli officials worried openly that the United States would warn Iran should Israel seek to launch a military strike against its nuclear facilities. That would give Washington a veto over effective action, since the odds that any such operation can succeed plummet once surprise is lost.
Given the Biden team’s ambivalence to Israel’s security needs, as well as the desire by top officials — Biden himself, Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, John Kerry, Jon Finer — to engage with Iran regardless of its behavior, Israel should be very worried about the Ford’s deployment. Jerusalem should worry that the real reason for the naval presence might not be to dissuade Israel’s enemies, but rather to dissuade Israel from launching a retaliation that could widen the war.
Iran’s fingerprints are all over the current crisis. It is not unreasonable to believe that Israel might contemplate a strike against senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders, or even the Supreme Leader himself. The U.S. Navy would never directly confront Israeli aircraft, but they could expose them. Targeted, indiscreet U.S. chatter monitored by Iranian or Turkish assets in Gaza, Lebanon, or Turkey-occupied northern Cyprus would be enough to warn Iran of a potential strike and dissuade Israel from following through.
When it comes to the Ford strike group, Israel should say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” The best help would be to look elsewhere for a couple weeks so that Israel can have a free hand to do what it needs.
About the Author
Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).
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