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Analysis: Why are US aircraft carriers headed to the Eastern Mediterranean?

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As Türkiye registers strong protest against the US move to send two aircraft carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean, here is why the move increases instability in the region.

The asymmetry between the two sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict is set to widen further with the arrival of two US aircraft carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean, ostensibly to deter any attacks against Israel.

As the conflict entered its 16th day, Israel intensified its attack on the besieged Gaza Strip, days after it bombed a hospital on Tuesday that left hundreds dead and thousands more injured.

Amid an expected Israeli ground offensive, what these aircraft carriers aim to do is sow seeds of insecurity in the region by giving military cover to Israel’s continuing atrocities, feel experts.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted against the move by questioning the actual purpose of the step, and the effect it would have in fueling the conflict.

“Our efforts to ensure peace were disrupted by steps such as sending aircraft carriers to the region, cutting off aid to the Palestinian people, and wholesale punishment of the people of Gaza,” he said on Wednesday, after the deadly attack on Al Ahli Arab Hospital.

Experts say there are many other ways and channels the US could have used to “deter any attack on Israel,” reflecting on how aircraft carriers as pledge of US support to Israel concerns Türkiye.

Does Israel actually need any military help?

“I have directed the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to begin moving to the Eastern Mediterranean as part of our effort to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’s attack on Israel,” said the US Secretary of Defence of Lloyd Austin, after the second carrier was sent to the region.

The power projection becomes obvious through the capacity of these carriers. The USS Gerald R. Ford, the first aircraft carrier sent to the region, is the US Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier and, along with its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes, has equipment that can respond to any threat.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the second aircraft carrier, equipped with various detection and electronic warfare systems, and control radars.

In addition to these two aircraft strike groups, the US has also deployed F15s, F16s and A10 attack planes in the region, expanding its flotillas.

Israel has already been carrying on an asymmetric war aimed at the destruction of besieged Gaza and massacre of its population, in a strategy that includes cutting off electricity, water and food supplies.

Security expert and lecturer at Bahcesehir University, Abdullah Agar, says the US’ unwavering support increases Israel’s strength significantly. He adds that the function of these carriers is to protect any possible ground operation by Israel from attack by regional actors.

The psychological and symbolic warfare

All experts mainly emphasise the symbolic nature of the move to send two aircraft carriers by the US.

Calling it force posturing, Tobias Schumacher, professor of European Studies at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, tells TRT World, “It signals, in the words of US President Joe Biden, that the US is standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with long-standing ally Israel.”

In a similar vein, Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, says “the move is intended as a psychological and symbolic show of support for Israel, not something that is substantively necessary for the security or success of the Israeli operation.”

Geostrategic importance of the Eastern Mediterranean

The US effort to make its presence felt in any conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean is nothing new.

Previously, an US attack submarine had anchored in a Greek Cypriot port to sell arms to the Greek Cypriot administration, after unilaterally lifting the arms embargo on Cyprus.

But why does the US keep repeating actions that are a source of instability in the region?

Schumacher explains that natural gas discoveries, energy security concerns, the entry and exit of the Suez Canal and the existence of important US allies in the region — mainly the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece — makes the region important for the US.

Considering its geopolitical and strategic importance, Falk says, “The last move could be interpreted as a way of saying that this is a West-dominated zone which has a very valuable gas deposit. In other words, it’s an extension of NATO, Israel, US security network and economic control.”

Türkiye’s concerns

The US sent not just one, but two aircraft carriers, criticised by Türkiye on the grounds that it might aggravate the conflict.

Referring to the incident of the downing of a drone by an US F16, during Türkiye’s air operations in northern Syria, Agar says, “Although Türkiye and the US are NATO allies, there is a crisis of confidence between them. At its centre is the terrorist organisation YPG/PKK, which the US has supported for years.”

This explains the Turkish concerns on how the positioning of the US aircraft carriers can deepen instability in the region. Agar adds the capacity and range of the carriers increases the US influence in the region.

The personnel in the two carriers includes special units, intelligence officers and infantry, says Agar, who can be used if needed.

“All the US equipment headed to the Eastern Mediterranean is not just there to support Israel on its Gaza operations, but in all other conflicts Israel is engaged in,” Agar says.

Source: TRT World

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