The Pentagon has ordered a second carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, according to two US officials, as Israel prepares to expand its Gaza operations.
The US warships are not intended to join the fighting in Gaza or take part in Israel’s operations, but the presence of two of the Navy’s most powerful ships is designed to send a message of deterrence to Iran and Iranian proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The first carrier strike group, led by the USS Gerald R. Ford, arrived off the coast of Israel earlier this week.
Now the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower strike group, which deployed Friday from Norfolk, Virginia, is headed to the eastern Mediterranean. The aircraft carrier was initially set to move toward the US European Command, but the officials said it will now head for the waters near Israel.
It is unclear at this point how long the Ford will stay in the region once the Eisenhower carrier strike group arrives, one official said.
The Eisenhower is the flagship of the carrier strike group, which will be joined by a guided-missile cruiser and two guided-missile destroyers, according to the Navy.
ABC News first reported the carrier strike group’s orders.
The Biden administration made clear that the carrier, and its accompanying force, are not there to engage in combat activities on behalf of Israel but rather to deter others from entering the conflict, including Hezbollah.
“There is no intention or plan to put American troops on the ground in Israel,” said John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, on Thursday.
In addition, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a rapid-reaction force capable of conducting special operations, is making preparations in case it is ordered closer to Israel to bolster the US force posture there, multiple US officials tell CNN.
The unit, which is on board the USS Bataan amphibious assault ship, is composed of more than 2,000 Marines and sailors and would be capable of supporting a large-scale evacuation. Among the mission essential tasks for a Marine Expeditionary Unit are evacuation operations and humanitarian assistance.
No such order has been given yet to the unit, the officials said.
Defense officials have said repeatedly in recent days the Pentagon will be able to flow in additional forces and assets to the region quickly as needed, as Israel continues to fight a war against the terrorist group Hamas.