By Jon Dougherty
The White House instructed the Pentagon to dispatch an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf after U.S. intelligence agencies caught wind of a potential ploy by Iran to attack American forces in the region, ABC News reported Sunday.
The rising tension between the U.S. and Iran comes as Iran-linked and financed groups in Gaza opened fire on Israel with a 700-rocket barrage on Saturday and Sunday, leaving at least three Israelis dead and several wounded.
The dispatch of the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group and an accompanying bomber task force were being deployed in response to unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” the Pentagon said — which is code for intelligence indicators.
The news network noted further:
A statement from National Security Adviser John Bolton said the deployments were intended “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” the statement continued.
One U.S. official reportedly told ABC News the battle group and bomber deployments came in response to “clear indications” that Iran and its proxies were preparing for possible attack against U.S. forces in the region. The decision to send additional American military assets was made on Sunday at the White House, the network reported.
“The movement of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to the region was expedited, and it was ordered there effective immediately,” said the official.
At present, the Abraham Lincoln battle group is currently sailing in the Mediterranean after leaving Norfolk, Virginia, on April 1. ABC News reports that the U.S. Navy does not publicize destinations for its carrier deployments anymore, but it’s likely that the carrier would transit through the Middle East toward its new home port of San Diego following its current deployment.
“It is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters traveling with him to Europe.
Pompeo did not provide specifics regarding potential Iranian actions. However, he made it clear the Trump administration would “hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for” any actions taken against American forces by its proxies — Hezbollah, Hamas, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps — or its own forces.
Meanwhile, Israel reached a ceasefire agreement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces in Gaza, for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being criticized. YNet News reports:
An agreement brokered by Egyptian mediators in Cairo brought an end to this latest round of violence between Gazan militants and Israel. The terms of the agreement are unclear, and there has been no formal Israeli confirmation that a deal is in place.
Opposition inside Netanyahu’s Likud party came in the form of a tweet by Likud political rival Gideon Sa’ar, who said that Israel gained nothing from this reported ceasefire, while the Palestinian organizations are increasing their attacks of Israel.
“Almost 700 rockets, many injured, four killed, all as a result of Israel’s loss of deterrence. Israel once again is capitulating to terrorists demands while the government lays out the next round at our door,” he wrote.
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, meanwhile, told Ynet that a ceasefire only served to empower Islamic Jihad.
“After 20 years of Netanyahu propping up Hamas, Israel is now propping up Islamic Jihad, who was at the table as an equal partner to (truce) talks in Cairo.”
Others inside Israel are blaming Iran directly. Notes The Jerusalem Post:
Iran, through Palestinian Islamic Jihad – its proxy in Gaza – is behind the current escalation in the South, former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said on Sunday.
Amidror, in a conversation with The Israel Project, traced the current round of massive rocket fire on Israel to Friday, when an Islamic Jihad sniper fired on IDF soldiers patrolling the Gaza border, wounding two officers. Israel responded and killed two Hamas men, and then the rocket barrage began from Gaza.
What made Friday’s shooting on the IDF patrol interesting, Amidror said, was that it took place precisely when Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders were in Cairo putting the finishing touches on an agreement drawn up by Egypt that was designed to ease the tension in the South.
But while its leaders were in Cairo, Islamic Jihad fired on the soldiers. At first, the organization tried to deny responsibility for the attack.
“Why did the Islamic Jihad do this?” Amidror asked. “The answer is again and again and again – Iran.”
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10