US to hike military aid, send military ships and aircraft closer to Israel

Hamas has labelled the US announcement to send warships closer to Israel as ‘aggression’ against Palestinians.

An Israeli soldier directs a military vehicle near the southern city of Ashkelon [Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP]

The United States has said it will send multiple military ships and aircraft closer to Israel as a show of support following Saturday’s surprise attack by the Palestinian armed group Hamas.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday said Washington will also increase military aid and provide munitions to Israel.

Hamas has labelled the US announcement as “aggression” against Palestinians.

“The announcement of the US that it will provide an aircraft carrier to support the occupation [Israel] is actual participation in the aggression against our people,” the group said in a statement.

Israel battered Palestinians with air strikes in the besieged Gaza Strip on Sunday, with hundreds reportedly killed on both sides.

Austin said the US believes Hamas’s latest attack could also be aimed at disrupting a potential normalising of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

US military - Israel
Pentagon orders the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean [File: Steve Helber/AP]

Austin said the security assistance to Israel will begin moving on Sunday and that the US will be adding fighter jets to the region as well.

The US has also ordered the moving of a carrier strike group closer to Israel, which includes the Ford carrier and ships that support it.

“I have directed the movement of the USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean,” Austin said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that additional assistance for the Israeli army was on its way.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, held a call with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, DC, said the US contributes $3bn a year in military aid to Israel.

“I have been told that among the munitions will be a support for [Israel’s] Iron Dome system… that is an intercept system for missiles and rockets being fired into Israel, which failed spectacularly on Saturday morning,” he said.

Rockets are fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip
Rockets are fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip [Fatima Shbair/AP]

Earlier on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the CNN network that “it wouldn’t be a surprise that part of the motivation [for Hamas’s attack] may have been to disrupt efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel together, along with other countries that may be interested in normalising relations with Israel”.

Hamas on Saturday said its attack was driven by what it called escalated Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and in Israeli prisons.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had highlighted threats to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the continuation of an Israeli blockade on Gaza and Israeli normalisation with countries in the region.

Netanyahu last month said he believed his country was on the cusp of peace with Saudi Arabia, predicting that the move could reshape the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has long insisted on the Palestinians’ right to statehood as a condition for recognising Israel, something many members of Netanyahu’s nationalist religious coalition have long resisted.

The US on Sunday said the Saudi-Israel normalisation efforts should continue despite the latest attack.

“We think it would be in both countries’ interests to continue to pursue this possibility,” US Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told Fox News.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies