America's efforts in the Middle East are in support of Israel's right to defend itself from terrorism and to contain the violence, senior defense officials said Oct. 24.
The officials, speaking on background, discussed U.S. efforts in the Middle East as conflict continues to blaze in Gaza.
"As we've communicated previously, the U.S. remains committed to ensuring the security and well-being of its allies and partners, particularly in the face of escalating threats across the region," a senior defense official said.
Part of this commitment are the changes Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III ordered in U.S. defense posture in the region.
Austin ordered the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group to the U.S. Central Command area of operations. This is in addition to the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group that will remain in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The secretary also ordered the deployment of a terminal high-altitude area defense battery and additional Patriot battalions to the region. These assets and personnel will to enhance U.S. force protection in the region.
Finally, "an additional number of forces have been placed on prepare-to-deploy orders to increase their readiness and ensure rapid response if required," the official said. "These measures are critical to bolstering regional deterrence efforts, safeguarding our troops and assisting in the defense of Israel."
The deployment of the carrier strike groups to the region sends a clear message to all parties in the Middle East.
"Our carrier strike groups give us the ability to launch operations independently, anywhere in the world and immediately upon arrival," the official said. "When we send them somewhere, we are deliberately sending an incredibly strong signal to our adversaries, but also to our allies and partners about the depth of our support, and the ability of the U.S. military to expeditiously, dynamically respond to contingencies anywhere in the world."
The groups provide a wide range of support from intelligence collection to maritime dominance to long-range strikes. This is a strategic move to show American support "not only to the region, but also to support Israel, and its right to defend itself from the brutal Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks," the official said.
These naval assets and the earlier deployment of fighter jets to the region are deterrence in the flesh. "Our advice to those who might seek to exploit the situation or amplify the conflict is simple: Don't," the official said.
The military capabilities and personnel in the region always retain the right of self-defense, the official said. Attacks will be answered decisively "at a time and place of our choosing."
The official also addressed the humanitarian aspects of the Hamas terror attack. "The loss of innocent lives, including U.S. citizens, Israeli civilians and Palestinian civilians is truly heartbreaking," the official said. "We have worked across the board from the White House to the State Department to the Defense Department to prioritize civilian protections and safety, as well as ensure the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to Gaza over the weekend."
Civilians should not be deliberately targeted. "Our partner, Israel, is a law-abiding country obligated to adhere to the law of armed conflict," the official said. "Hamas — a terrorist organization — did not, does not, and continues to deliberately target civilians and hold civilians hostage."
Iran and Iranian proxy groups remain roadblocks to peace in the region. Hamas is a proxy group of Tehran as is Lebanese Hezbollah and many groups operating in Syria and parts of Iraq. U.S. personnel in Syria and Iraq have been targets and the USS Carney, a U.S. destroyer operating in the Red Sea, foiled cruise missile and suicide drone attacks last week.
"We see a prospect for a more significant escalation against US forces and personnel in the near term," the official said. "And let's be clear about it – the road leads back to Iran. Iran funds, arms, equips and trains militias and proxy forces all across the region."