Pentagon Diverts Carrier USS Eisenhower to Protect Troops in Mideast

USS Eisenhower under way (USN file image)
USS Eisenhower under way (USN file image)

Published Oct 22, 2023 8:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

Earlier this month, the Pentagon dispatched the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Eastern Mediterranean in order to prepare for possible contingencies related to American-backed Israeli operations against the terrorist group Hamas. Eisenhower was deployed to serve as a message to Iran and its proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon to stay on the sidelines and out of the conflict. This week, the situation has evolved: with Iranian-backed forces launching missile and drone attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria, Eisenhower will head to the Middle East instead and will prepare to defend U.S. troops. 

The Pentagon is also deploying additional Patriot missile batteries and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery to the area for defense against ballistic missile and cruise missile attacks. 

"These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for U.S. forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel," said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a statement. 

Israel's objective is to "destroy" the terrorist organization Hamas and eliminate the security threat in Gaza. Hamas fighters killed about 1,400 Israelis in simultaneous border raids earlier this month, actively targeting civilians. More than 4,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza during the Israeli response, according to UNHCR, including "a large number of women and children." 

Iran is Hamas' primary sponsor and supplier, and it has ratcheted up its rhetoric against Israel and its backers in recent days. 

"I warn the U.S. and its proxy Israel that if they do not immediately stop the crime against humanity and genocide in Gaza, anything is possible at any moment and the region will go out of control," Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said at a news conference in Tehran.

On Saturday, Iranian Intelligence Minister Esmaeil Khatib had similar words, warning Israel and the U.S. that there would be a "harsh, devastating, and calamitous revenge" for what he described as "crimes against Gazans."

Iran's regional proxy forces have begun launching small-scale retaliatory strikes against American and Israeli forces over the past week. Iranian proxy group Hezbollah, Lebanon's biggest political organization, has begun a series of skirmishes with Israeli forces on the Lebanese border. Iran-backed militias have also launched rocket attacks on the American outposts in Baghdad, Iraq and al-Tanf, Syria, resulting in the death of one U.S. contractor.

Iran's proxies have also been active further to the south. A U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Carney, shot down three land-attack cruise missiles and multiple drones from a position in the Red Sea on Thursday. The munitions were launched by Iranian-backed Houthi rebel forces, and were likely aimed at Israeli territory, according to the Pentagon. 

U.S. deterrence efforts are currently focused on preventing Hezbollah from opening a second front on Israel's northern border, as well as keeping Iran on the sidelines. The carrier USS Gerald R. Ford remains on station off Israel to support this mission, accompanied by a growing number of escorts and amphibs. Ford was scheduled to be relieved by USS Eisenhower, but her deployment has been extended to allow both carriers to stay in the region.