Over the weekend, the Pentagon announced that an aircraft carrier and additional air defense systems will be deployed to the Middle East amidst rising tensions ignited by Hamas’ terrorist attack in Israel.
The Islamic Republic of Iran supports, funds, and weaponizes its regional proxy groups – which includes Hamas. Many of these affiliated groups have launched an increased number of assaults targeting U.S. facilities and personnel in the Middle East. In addition to the carrier, other military forces have also been placed in a higher state of readiness to prepare for potential future deployment to the region on short notice. When Hamas carried out its heinous surprise attack against Israel on October 7, U.S. officials immediately warned Iran’s proxies to back off and not exploit the crisis. Moving an American carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf sends a strong message to Hamas, Hezbollah, and other aligned actors in the region.
Change of Plans for the USS Eisenhower
Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group would be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to join the USS Gerald R. Ford. The shift that caused the White House to reevaluate this strike group’s positioning is significant. Over the last 19 days, Iranian-backed militants in Iraq and Syria have carried out attacks targeting U.S. assets in larger frequencies. In response, Austin initially said that the Eisenhower group would deploy to the eastern Mediterranean to “deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’ attack on Israel.” Considering Iran’s involvement with these proxy groups and their barrages, however, the ships’ relocation to the Persian Gulf seems more than warranted.
“[We’ve] seen rocket and UAV attacks against bases housing our troops in Iraq and Syria. We’re concerned about potential escalation,” Austin said following the announcement. “In fact, what we’re seeing is a prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region. And because of that, we’re going to do what’s necessary to make sure that our troops are in the right — in a good position, and they’re protected, and that we have the ability to respond,” the Defense Secretary told ABC during a recent interview.
Iranian-Linked Groups Continue to Launch Barrage Targeting U.S. Assets in the Region
On October 18, at least 30 U.S. military personnel suffered minor injuries when Iranian-backed militants launched drone and rocket barrages targeting coalition military bases in Iraq and Syria. The al-Asad airbase in Iraq and the al-Tanf airbase in Syria were targeted in the assaults. Earlier this week, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder revealed that U.S. and coalition forces had been attacked at least thirteen separate times in Iraq and Syria over the last week alone. These militias claim to be attacking U.S. facilities in the region based on America’s support for Israel.
Since Hamas launched its surprise attack in Israel, American and Israeli officials have been largely concerned with Hezbollah. The Lebanese-based designated terror group could exploit the crisis unfolding between Hamas and Israel and join the war. While Hezbollah has shown some constraint in recent weeks, its militants are carrying out attacks targeting civilian centers in Israel at an increased rate. Iran’s other proxy groups, however, should not be dismissed as more marginal threats.
The most prominent Iranian-backed umbrella group in Iraq is Kataib Hezbollah. On Wednesday, its leader Ahmad al-Hamidawi boasted that “Our missiles, drones, and special forces are ready to direct qualitative strikes at the American enemy in its bases and disrupt its interests if it intervenes in this battle,” adding that “These evil people must leave the country. Otherwise, they will taste the fire of hell in this world before the afterlife.”
Another Iranian-linked attack that directly impacted U.S. servicemembers occurred in Yemen last Thursday. The USS Carney intercepted four missiles and 15 drones fired from Yemen, which analysts believe were launched by the Houthi rebels and aimed toward Israel. In order to better protect troops in the Middle East, Austin said the U.S. would deliver Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THADD) missile batteries and an additional Patriot air defense battalions.
As the saying goes, deterrence is only successful if it prevents an action from occurring. Obviously, Iranian-aligned militants have already taken action to target Israeli and American assets in the Middle East.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
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