“We did not move the carrier for Hamas. We moved the carrier to send a clear message of deterrence to other states or non-state actors that might seek to widen this war,” said Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser.
“Sailors are prepared and ready for anything, at any time. Proud to serve. Always ready.” So noted the world’s largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, on social media.
Following Hamas’s multi-pronged brutal attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, the U.S. Navy’s newest vessel is en route to the region. “Strengthening our joint force posture, in addition to the materiel support that we will rapidly provide to Israel, underscores the United States’s ironclad support for the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli people,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said on Oct. 8.
The aircraft carrier’s dispatch to the Eastern Mediterranean, along with the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy and four Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, could mean several things, experts told JNS. The group of vessels signals U.S. support for Israel, and it might also indicate that Washington worries about Iran and Syria potentially joining in attacks on Israel.
“We did not move the carrier for Hamas,” said Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, during the White House press briefing on Tuesday. “We moved the carrier to send a clear message of deterrence to other states or non-state actors that might seek to widen this war.”
“The president has also tasked us with engaging in contingency planning for any and all escalation scenarios,” Sullivan added. “We are now deeply engaged in that planning. And we are consulting with allies and partners as well about all of the potential scenarios that might unfold in the days ahead.”
‘A good signal’
The vessels might be headed to the region to help evacuate Americans, according to Michael Makovsky, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.
They may also “be a show of support for Israel and also a signal to the Iranians if Hezbollah gets involved in any conflict with Israel,” Makovsky told JNS. “Hopefully, this is a good signal of American engagement, and it’s a good signal to Iran and its proxies.”
The Pentagon may also be following up on U.S. President Joe Biden’s warning to others in the region to get involved in the conflict. “This is a way of warning Israel’s enemies to stay out of this,” Makovsky said.
The Biden administration is signaling its full support of Israel’s war effort, according to Dan Arbell, a scholar-in-residence at American University’s Israeli Studies Center in Washington.
Arbell, a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service, told JNS that he thinks the Biden administration will stand by Israel in this conflict, including providing Israel with whatever equipment it needs.
“It is also a warning to Iran and other actors who may be contemplating to follow in Hamas’s footsteps,” Arbell said. “While I think Israel has a lot of the equipment it needs, the United States assured Israel that if anything is missing or feels it needs more bombs, more equipment, more weapons and ammunition, the United States is willing to provide it.”
Washington shipped more than 22,000 tons of weapons, ammunition and equipment to Israel as part of “Operation Nickel Grass” during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. “This reminds us of that period and that the United States stands by Israel,” Arbell said.
A complex, changing scenario
Ido Aharoni Aronoff, a senior faculty member at Tel Aviv University’s management school who is also a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service, told JNS that the Pentagon might have several reasons to deploy the aircraft carrier team to the region.
“It is meant to serve as an implicit reminder to the Russian-Iranian axis that the United States will not hesitate to intervene militarily,” he said. “Both the United States and Israel agree that Hamas and Hezbollah are only one piece of a much larger design to undermine the United States globally. Iran is the mastermind. Russia is the inspiration. And the proxy terrorist organizations are the executors.”
The Defense Department’s move also “reflects an assessment that the Gaza war could mushroom quickly into a multi-front conflict,” according to Aharoni.
Beyond Hamas to the south, that could include Hezbollah in the north, Iranian forces from Syria, Islamists, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, in Judea and Samaria “and, of course, Arabs within Israel,” Aharoni said.
Having sustained dramatic losses in recent years, Hezbollah may be tempted to join Hamas and Islamic Jihad. “Such a scenario, that ironically was largely discussed in the Israeli media in recent years, could increase the likelihood of rapid and dangerous deterioration to a full regional war,” he continued. “The United States is trying to prevent that from happening.”
Given the possibility of “such a complex and challenging scenario, and newly expressed doubts as to Israel’s ability to handle them simultaneously,” Washington is “determined to help Israel restore some deterrence,” according to Aharoni. “Israel’s deterrence was gravely hit due to its colossal political and operational failures on Oct. 7.”
The main reason for the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust, according to Aharoni, is the failure of the “Netanyahu doctrine,” of which the scholar said Washington is well aware. That doctrine “was based on the assumption that Hamas could be somehow contained and that the undermining of the Palestinian Authority is actually in Israel’s best interest,” he said.
But that “failed doctrine” has “completely collapsed,” added Aharoni.
“The United States is now committed to the destruction of Hamas, and Hamas—with its incomprehensible brutality and inhumanity—lost the Palestinian traditional ownership of the victimhood narrative,” according to Aharoni.
“Nothing justifies the mass killing of toddlers with their parents or music lovers, who came to celebrate peace in a forest festival,” he said. “Hamas is the new ISIS, and the United States is signaling a firm commitment to reward Hamas with the very same fate as ISIS.”