The U.S. is increasing its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean amid escalating tensions and fears of a more significant regional conflict. Speaking on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan highlighted the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure the safe evacuation of Palestinian-Americans from Gaza.
“Our main concern right now is ensuring the safety of American citizens in Gaza and getting them safely to Egypt,” Sullivan said. “We’re putting in relentless efforts to ensure this.”
Sullivan emphasized that the U.S. is working to support the general civilian populace in Gaza by providing access to necessities such as food, water, shelter, and medicine, as most Gazans aren’t affiliated with Hamas. As Israel gears up for a potential ground operation in Gaza, there’s anticipation of heightened conflict. Israeli airstrikes have persisted since Hamas carried out an attack on Israel on October 7.
Reports indicate over 1,300 fatalities and at least 3,200 injuries due to the ongoing conflict, with 30 American citizens among the deceased and 13 unaccounted for as of Sunday. Meanwhile, the Gaza Health Ministry disclosed that Israeli airstrikes have killed over 2,329 individuals, including 724 children, with an additional 9,714 injured.
In response to questions about the U.S.’s decision to deploy an additional aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean due to potential threats from Iran, Sullivan stated there’s no new specific intelligence. However, he acknowledged the persistent risks, including the possibility of Iran’s involvement.
According to Sullivan, President Biden wants to convey a strong message of deterrence against any party attempting to exploit the ongoing conflict. Amidst this, there have been clashes between Israel and Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group backed by Iran.
Sullivan expressed concerns about “proxy forces” like Hezbollah and the increasing risks of escalation, especially after recent confrontations on the Israel-Lebanon border.
Gaza hospitals are nearing a critical point, running low on essential supplies and fuel for generators. Since the conflict’s onset, nearly a million residents have been displaced from the Gaza Strip, with many attempting to flee the region. The Rafah border crossing into Egypt, Gaza’s only exit point, remains shut.
Sullivan mentioned that the U.S. constantly communicates with the Israeli Defense Forces regarding their ground operation plans in Gaza. An estimated 500-600 Palestinian-Americans have expressed interest in leaving Gaza, and the U.S. government is actively working to facilitate this.
Although the exact number of Americans who have departed Gaza isn’t confirmed, the situation remains volatile. Sullivan concluded that for Israel, success would mean long-term safety and security, which involves eliminating threats from Hamas.