2 Mayport-based ships part of carrier strike group sent to support Israel in Mediterranean

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday he has ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel after the attack by Hamas that has left more than 1,000 dead on both sides. Americans were reported to be among those killed and missing.

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, and its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes will be accompanied by cruisers and destroyers in a show of force that is meant to be ready to respond to anything, from possibly interdicting additional weapons from reaching Hamas and conducting surveillance.

Among the ships accompanying the USS Ford will be two ships from Naval Station Mayport: the USS Carney and the USS Thomas Hudner. Both are guided missile destroyers.

The large deployment reflects a U.S. desire to deter any regional expansion of the conflict. But the Israeli government formally declared war Sunday and gave the green light for “significant military steps” to retaliate against Hamas.

The carrier strike group already was in the Mediterranean. Last week it was conducting naval exercises with Italy in the Ionian Sea. The USS Ford is in its first full deployment.

The U.S. is also augmenting Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region as well as the cruiser USS Normandy and destroyers USS Ramage and USS Roosevelt.

Nancy Soderberg, a former member of the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration and Ambassador to the UN, said Israel would win this war but the violence could last years.

“Well the US, and this is bipartisan, both Republicans and Democrats support Israel, so it’s one of the rare times when Washington is united in support for Israel. We will do everything we can to make sure Israel has the resources it needs,” Soderberg said.

Multiple national security experts said the wildcard in this conflict is Iran and whether it will play a role.  Soderberg said Israel will win a war with Hamas because they are the much larger military force.

“I think that’s what we don’t want to happen, to have it escalate. Iran is a big supporter of Hamas. Also Hezbollah in Lebanon to the North. Also, join in some of the attacks some sort of warped solidarity. But I think the immediate task is to end the threat to the Israeli civilians,” Soderberg said.

Soderberg said another big question is what happens to the Palestinians after this with Israel targeting Hamas and many Palestinians living under Hamas rule. She added that if any of the hostages turn out to be Americans that could draw the U.S. into the conflict further.

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