The United States is quietly expanding its military facility in Israel to ramp up its capacity for deterring hostilities from escalating in the Middle East amid Tel Aviv’s ongoing war with Gaza, as per the report of an American non-profit news organisation.
Just two months before Hamas’s shocking attack on Israeli towns, the Pentagon vested a multimillion-dollar contract for expansion of the secret US base it maintains deep within Israel’s Negev desert, just 20 miles from Gaza.
Code-named ‘Site 512,’ the base currently serves as a radar facility for monitoring the skies for missile attacks on Israel – but not for those incoming from the Gaza Strip but for the mid-range missiles of Iran, the patron of anti-Israel militias in the region, as per a US media report. That’s why the facility could not detect when Hamas fired as many as 2,200 rockets into Israel on the morning of October 7.
The US Army base, situated atop Mount Har Qeren, is now being expanded for new facilities, including a “life support facility,” a military term denoting accommodations similar to barracks for troops.
Washington has vastly expanded its presence in the Middle East after the war broke out, in an attempt to keep Iran – which aids and funds Hamas and Israel’s rival in the north, Lebanese group Hezbollah – from directly joining the conflict. It has doubled its number of fighter jets in the region and deployed two aircraft carriers off the Israeli coast.
The White House has insisted that it does not plan to send US troops to support Israel. However, it is not clear if the Pentagon will deploy troops stationed at the military base to assist Israeli defence forces.
According to an obliquely referenced contract accessed by India Today OSINT Team, the Pentagon awarded the tender to Israeli construction major, Ashush (or Bryan Ashush JV), which specialises in building everything from concrete shields on houses to military and intelligence installations in southern Israel, near Gaza. The company found mention in the Pentagon’s August 2 contract announcement for the construction of a “life-support area” in Israel. Ashush is among four bidders that were considered for the contract, the Defense Department documents show.
Simultaneously, the US is doubling American firepower deployed in the Middle East to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from spilling over in the region and carrying out possible airstrikes to defend American interests, US officials said on October 12.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd J Austin III has said that he had ordered a second aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war”. The second carrier, the Dwight D Eisenhower, is expected to arrive in the next few days.
For now, US officials said, the deployment of additional forces is meant to deter Iran, Syria or any Iran-backed proxy groups, like Hezbollah, from entering the war. However, when Israeli troops launched their ground invasion of Gaza more than a fortnight ago, American commanders expressed fears that the US could get dragged into the conflict.
The Pentagon and US intelligence officials are closely monitoring Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, as well as Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria that have periodically carried out strikes against American military personnel based in both countries.
After a US civilian contractor was killed and six other Americans were injured in March in northeast Syria by a drone that US officials said was of “Iranian origin,” US President Joe Biden ordered two F-15E fighter jets to retaliate by launching airstrikes against militant sites linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. That prompted Iran-backed militias to launch a volley of rocket and drone attacks that injured another American.
The US provides Israel with more than $3 billion in military assistance every year, and Secretary of State Antony J Blinken has said that much of the equipment from that funding is already “in the pipeline” to be sent to Israel. It has also positioned stockpiles of arms and ammunition worth about $2 billion at about six sites in Israel. The stockpiles provide weapons and ammunition for the Pentagon to use in Middle East conflicts, and the United States has also given Israel access to the supplies in emergencies.
The Pentagon has also sent a small team of Special Operations forces to Israel to assist with intelligence and planning for any operations to help locate and rescue the 150 hostages Hamas is believed to be holding, including some Americans.