The Pentagon has sent 2,000 marines and sailors to waters off Israel’s coast as part of a “show of force” in the region, CNN reported, citing unnamed US officials. The move comes amid continued fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants, which has claimed thousands of lives this month.
Led by the elite 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the “rapid response force” is headed toward Israel on board the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship previously stationed in the Gulf of Oman, officials told the outlet on Monday. They did not specify the unit’s exact destination, or say if it would join two US carrier strike groups parked in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The naval deployments are reportedly meant to “send a message of deterrence to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah,” and some of the US warships have recently patrolled waters near the Islamic Republic.
Separately, on Sunday Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered another 2,000 troops to gear up for a potential “medical and logistical support” mission in Israel, according to multiple news agencies.
However, Pentagon staffers stressed that the order does not guarantee direct US involvement in the conflict with the Gaza Strip-based militant group Hamas, noting that the White House “does not want to give the impression that American troops could become embroiled in a hot war.” The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the preparations, also stated that the troops would be tasked with “advising and medical support” and “aren’t intended to serve in a combat role.”
The 2,000 soldiers are now stationed across a wide area, including in the Middle East and Europe, but have been placed on notice to deploy within 24 hours if needed.
Though officials said the move would be aimed at “forestalling a wider regional war,” the planning comes as some US lawmakers push for direct military action in the Middle East. During a sit-down with CNN last week, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham declared “If there’s an escalation of this war against Israel, I’m blaming Iran, and it is now time to put them on notice.”
Asked whether Washington should “bomb Iran,” even without evidence the country aided Hamas’ deadly October 7 terrorist attack on Israel, Graham simply replied: “Yeah.”
The surprise rocket and ground assault from Gaza on Israeli cities has triggered weeks of fighting, with the Israel Defense Forces launching retaliatory airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave. Around 1,400 people have been killed in Israel in the latest flare-up, according to local authorities, while Palestinian officials have reported over 2,800 fatalities in Gaza.