The Navy shuffle: Mixed signals with Biden visit to Israel

See Also: “My question is why we’ve left the deterrence and intercept space wide open.”

October 17, 2023

Whom are we zooming here, and why?

The signals being sent with President Biden’s visit to Israel on Wednesday may not be that mixed.  It remains to be seen.  But if they trend less mixed, we should be concerned that their purpose is to limit Israel’s options.

With little time tonight, I will concentrate on one aspect of the signal-sending.  There’s more than one pointing in the same direction, but other writers are covering those aspects very competently.  It’s the import of major U.S. naval movements that stands out to me and requires brief commentary.

To set the scene, here’s a look at a report out on 16 October that U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “warned Israel against an escalation against Hezbollah at this time.”

The source isn’t specified, but the reporting site is the UK-based Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), a think-tank with a high reputation.   BICOM has evinced UK and Israeli ministry of defence connections in previous reporting, and probably has valid insight here.

The report is BICOM’s daily update on the Hamas-Israel conflict.  Here is the passage on SECDEF Austin:

  • During his visit to Israel over the weekend, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin is thought to have warned Israeli officials against an escalation against Hezbollah at this time. In return, Austin pledged to send US aircraft and pilots to actively engage in defence of Israel were Hezbollah to strike first.

The main concern, which most readers will be familiar with, is the probability that Hezbollah will open a second front against northern Israel should the IDF enter Gaza for ground operations.  Apparently Austin’s reported appeal was to avoid escalation by Israel in dealing with that contingency.

Aside from the, er, chutzpah of giving Israel such a warning, Americans are likely to fix on the startling news that we’re pledging “to send US aircraft and pilots to actively engage in defence of Israel were Hezbollah to strike first.”

To date, announcements of U.S. force preparations have stressed that no combat role is envisioned for our military.

But aircraft and pilots “actively engaging in defense of Israel” can hardly avoid combat.  Combat is exactly what they’d be committing to.

Please just hold that thought.  Indignation over it is not the point in this post, though I sympathize with the sentiment.

The point, however, is that some obvious factors focus for us what we are to understand from this.  One factor is the movement last week of the carrier strike group in the Mediterranean, the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) strike group, to the Eastern Med, close to Israel.  Ford’s air wing would be an offshore, short-reaction force for executing a “defense of Israel” mission.

U.S. Air Force assets would also be available from their European bases.  The quickest – near-instantaneous – reactions would come from the carrier, however.  If the carrier is keeping a combat air patrol airborne and available on call, or on the shortest deck alert, a response would be possible in moments.

Coming in from the East coast to relieve Ford on station is the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69) strike group.  The Biden administration has been coy about whether both carriers will stay.  But the administration was also somewhat misleading at the outset about Eisenhower’s deployment, implying that DOD was “considering” Ike’s deployment when In fact the deployment has been scheduled for months.

Ike is deploying on time for a normal rotation of the U.S. carrier presence in EUCOM and CENTCOM.  The Ike strike group isn’t deploying as a response to emerging world events.

If I had to predict right now, I’d predict Ike will enter the Med and stay, and Ford will depart and head home to Norfolk.

That’s as things look today.  Developments are moving so quickly that reasons to keep two carriers deployed forward may be apparent within days.  But at the moment, no announced U.S. purpose would require more than one in EastMed.

Meanwhile, we learned on Monday that the amphibious ready group centered on USS Bataan (LHD-5), with its embarked Marines, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)/Special Operations Capable (SOC), is rejoining is the Med in the coming days.  The Bataan ARG/26 MEU(SOC), which deployed from the East coast in July, split up when it got to the Med in August, with Bataan and one of the two other amphibious ships (USS Carter Hall, LSD-50)  shifting to CENTCOM, while USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19), the second of the other amphibious ships, remained in the Med.  Now the ARG/MEU is coming back together, and will reportedly be positioned, like the carrier strike group, off Israel in EastMed.


The issue with this is the obvious question:  what, exactly, is the ARG/MEU going to do off Israel?  Americans certainly aren’t expecting to see U.S. Marines in combat in the Israel-Hamas fight.

Nor, it must be emphasized, is there any reason to think Israel wants U.S. forces deployed for combat inside Israel.

Before making conclusions, ponder perhaps the most significant factor of all in this situation.  That factor is Iran’s instigating involvement in it.




October 20, 2023 | 3 Comments »

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3 Comments / 3 Comments

  1. Here’s the breakdown of the $105 billion that the White House will request:
    $60 billion in funding to Ukraine, which aligns with an annual appropriation to continue US aid to Ukraine.
    $14 billion to Israel, in line with what Israelis have requested
    $10 billion in humanitarian aid to Ukraine and around the world
    $14 billion for border funding to address drug trafficking and fentanyl
    $7 billion for the Indo-Pacific and Taiwan

    posted on FB by SK

  2. One more point to highlight. It has been suggested several times now that a second air craft carrier is being dispatched to the Mediterranean due to the rising conflict there, but as Dyer has noted since this claim was first made several days ago, the USS Eisenhower has been scheduled to relieve the USS Ford well before the current conflict. Whether the Ford will return to port after the arrival of the Eisenhower remains to be seen, but the greater deterrence to Iranian escalation in this conflict would be have at least one carrier in the Persian Gulf off the shores of Iran rather than having two off the coast of Lebanon.

  3. An interesting analysis by Dyer where she draws attention to the fact that despite Iran clearly being implicated in the Hamas attack, there is no carrier group in the Persian Gulf to respond to Iran should it attack either Israel or the US forces in the region, making it necessary for any potential aerial assault on Iran to be made while crossing thru Lebanon and Syria where they would need to deal with Russian missile systems. Additionally, there are no amphibious marine groups present in the Persian Gulf either. As Dyer notes, this is not responsive to the US position in the region, nor is it helpful in regards to providing deterrence in support of Israel.

    Notably, since this article was written, the US forces in Syria and Iraq have been struck seven times by missiles and drones attacks, to which the US neither responded nor were these assaults even mentioned during the recent White House address.