Since the start of Israel’s most brutal assault on Gaza, attacks against US military assets in the region have spiked.
The Biden administration is making contingency plans for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of American citizens from the Middle East in the case of an all-out war, focusing particularly on citizens residing in Israel and Lebanon, according to a report by the Washington Post.
Despite its open support for Israel as it wages a deadly war in Gaza, the US administration harbours deep concerns over escalating violence. “The administration is very, very, very worried that this thing is going to get out of hand,” one official disclosed to The Post.
In recent days, attention has shifted toward the complex logistics of a potential large-scale relocation of American citizens. According to State Department estimates, approximately 600,000 US citizens were in Israel and another 86,000 were believed to be in Lebanon when the Palestinian resistance group attacked Israel.
The focus of US concern in Lebanon is primarily Hezbollah, a political party and militant group that currently holds the largest number of seats in the country’s parliament. Since the escalations, both Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged cross-border fire, opening up a northern front to Tel Aviv’s military activities.
However, the report also suggests the US administration’s apprehensions extend beyond Israel and Lebanon.
Street protests against Israel’s attacks on Gaza and its occupation of Palestine have erupted across the Arab world, highlighting a resurgence in the issue’s importance in the Arab street.
“The street to a large extent is now in charge,” Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former official in the Clinton administration told WaPo.
“We were told for the last 10 years that the Arab world and Muslim world didn’t care about Palestine anymore, and Abraham Accords were proof of that,” Riedel added, pointing to the contorversial normalisation agreement signed between Israel, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
“Well, Palestine has come back. I don’t think it ever went away,” he said.
Senior US officials, initially reticent to discuss contingency planning in public, have altered their approach in recent days, signalling increased anxiety over potential third parties joining the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Last week, the State Department publicly advised all US citizens globally “to exercise increased caution” due to “increased tensions in various locations around the world, the potential for terrorist attacks, [and] demonstrations or violent actions against US citizens and interests.”
Experts suggest that a large-scale US evacuation from the region could surpass the complexity of any similar efforts in recent history. Military assets, including Air Force aircraft and Navy warships that recently arrived in the region, might be called into action.
Israel’s war on Gaza
According to reports, the documented murder toll among Palestinians in Gaza has neared 6,000, 70% of which are children, women and the elderly. About 1,500 people have been reported missing and are presumed to be trapped or dead under the rubble.
As the war continues to escalate, the US has also mobilised in the region.
The United States is deploying a ‘Terminal High Altitude Area Defense’ (THAAD) system and additional ‘Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept On Target’ (Patriot) air defence missile system battalions to Qatar and other countries in the region, according to CENTCOM.
The new military commitment comes two years after the Biden administration withdrew air defence systems from the Middle East, attributing the decision to decreased tensions with Iran.
THAAD will be sent to Saudi Arabia, and Patriot systems to Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE in response to increasing attacks on American troops in the area, a statement on X, formerly Twitter, read.
THAADS are known to be a bigger version of Israel’s infamous Iron Dome.
The Patriot system is an advanced missile defense system initially developed by the United States and now deployed by various countries around the world. It is designed to detect, track, and engage a wide range of incoming airborne threats, including aircraft, helicopters, drones, and ballistic and cruise missiles.
The US has four THAAD batteries and 50 Patriot Batteries available, so the new deployments to the region represent roughly a quarter of America’s ground based missile defense assets, according to experts.
Additionally, Washington is deploying two carrier strike groups, eleven Burke-class destroyers, a number of Ticonderoga-class cruisers, amphibious assault ships, multiple squadrons of fighter jets, strategic bombers, and undisclosed assets to the Middle East.
The Patriot system, one of the most advanced US air defence technologies, is often in high demand and short supply, with global allies frequently competing for it.
The THAAD system, on the other hand, is noted for its advanced radar capabilities. It is designed to intercept and destroy short, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal phase.
The deployment of such a system has far-reaching implications, both militarily and geopolitically. When the US previously stationed a THAAD system in South Korea in 2016, it sparked significant tensions with China, which believed the powerful radar could spy into its airspace.
The latest deployments are part of a larger pattern of increased US military presence in the Middle East. In recent weeks, the US has sent two aircraft carriers, support ships, and approximately 2,000 Marines to the region.
“Following detailed discussions with President (Joe) Biden on recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East Region, today I directed a series of additional steps to further strengthen the Department of Defense posture in the region,” Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in a formal statement.
While Austin confirmed that additional troops are on prepare-to-deploy orders, he did not specify the number.
“These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for US forces in the region, and assist in the defence of Israel,” Austin added.
However, since the start of Israel’s most brutal assault on Gaza, attacks against US military assets in the region have spiked.
Just last week, a US warship intercepted more than a dozen drones and four cruise missiles launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen. Moreover, multiple Israeli settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan experienced power outages due to recent shelling from across the border.