CNN is reporting that three U.S. warships are on their way to the eastern Mediterranean “to remain on standby” in case they are needed to help U.S. citizens evacuate from Israel. At the same time, officials tell the network they presently consider that scenario to be “extremely remote.” CNN reports:
Three U.S. Navy amphibious warships are returning to the eastern Mediterranean to remain on standby in the event they are needed to assist Americans leaving Israel in the coming days, according to two U.S. officials.
The officials stressed an evacuation remains an extremely remote possibility and the Obama administration is not currently planning for one. Americans who wish to leave the region now are able to do so using commercial airlines.
But the decision to send the ships even if the event is such a remote contingency underscores the growing concern about where the Israel-Gaza conflict could be headed.
“This is due diligence. It is better to be prepared should there be a need,” one official said Monday. Both officials said the ships would be used only for assisting Americans and not for any combat role.
Despite the conflict raging between Israel and Hamas, Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv continues to operate as usual; however, air traffic controllers have altered flight paths to keep commercial aircraft away from incoming Hamas rockets and Iron Dome defensive missiles. In addition, Air France has announced that due to the armed conflict, there may be disruption to its flights in and out of the country.
An estimated 150,000 U.S. citizens live in Israel. The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv has been sending daily emails to American visitors and residents. Monday’s email said:
U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise caution and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety and security in light of the escalating level of violence in Gaza and Israel. U.S. citizens should pay close attention to their surroundings and news reports, and follow the civil defense guidance provided by the Home Front Command. The Government of Israel’s Home Front Command website provides information on how to choose a secure space or room in a home or apartment. Visitors may also seek information on shelters from hotel staff or building managers. Please click here for further emergency preparedness guidance provided by the Home Front Command.
CNN reports that the three ships – the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York and the USS Gunston Hall – before receiving the new orders were west of Gibraltar. That means their crews and some 2,500 Marines will have a delayed homecoming in Norfolk, Virginia.