A number of US cargo planes landed in Israel Thursday, Feb. 27, with unidentified military supplies.
To evade watching eyes, they came into Lod airport from an unusual direction – the north instead of the west or east as usual. They departed the next morning by the same route, which took the air transports over Herzliya before turning west to the Mediterranean.
Western military sources report that the secret cargos airlifted in were related to the spiraling tensions along Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon. (See a separate article on this), but may also tie in with the crisis over Ukraine.
DEBKA Weekly's military sources disclose that the items flown in included a number of US multi-mission V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft with both a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. From March 2-6, a joint US-Israeli military exercise took place, during which Israeli air crews flew the new aircraft for the first time in operational trials.
According to our military sources, all the US units deployed in Israel and the region, especially in the Mediterranean, are on a high state of preparedness. They say that the military overtones of the Ukraine crisis and the prospect of its spillover into the Middle East dominated the conversation President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held in the White House on Monday, March 3
Iran’s nuclear program and talks with the Palestinians were only touched on cursorily.
High-placed circles in Washington reported to our sources that both the US and Israel believe that a potential US-Russian military encounter over Ukraine and Crimea would likely not be a head-on clash but waged through Middle East proxies.
Two US aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean
Those circles discount the Pentagon’s claim on March 5 that there are no changes in US military deployments in the Mediterranean in the light of events in Ukraine. This may be correct technically, but in terms of operational capacity, the US has beefed up its naval, air and marine presence in the region.
The day that US cargo planes landed in Israel, the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier moved into the Mediterranean with its strike group – supposedly to take the place of the USS Harry S. Truman carrier.
But there is no word yet of the Truman’s exit. So, for the present, the United States has two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.
The Bush carries nine air squadrons; four are fighter planess – half the squadron composed of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and half the older F/A-18C Hornets.
On its decks too are a squadron of four EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes, a squadron of four E-2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, two squadrons of Seahawk helicopters – with 10 to 11 birds each – and two C-2 transport planes.
The Bush strike group includes the USS Truxtun and USS Roosevelt destroyers and the USS Philippine Sea cruiser.
Operating separately in the Med are the two American destroyers, the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Donald Cook. Both are based in Spain for ballistic missile defense functions.
US Baltic air might doubled, naval presence kept in Black Sea
In the Black Sea, the US Navy maintains two ships that were initially tasked with helping provide security for last month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
One is the USS Taylor frigate; the other the USS Mount Whitney, a high-tech command ship capable of gathering vast amounts of electronic communications.
In late February, the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group arrived off the Spanish coast. The Bataan is a helicopter carrier with a complement of 2,400 members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard. It is accompanied by a strike force of two assault ships, USS Gunston Hall and USS Mesa Verde.
The 3,300 soldiers of the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, are available for short-notice missions. America’s rapidly-deployable ground response force for Europe, the lightly-equipped 173rd, can be parachuted into a war zone from C-17 and C-130 air transports.
The US keeps quiet about the size and movements of its military units in the region, still hoping that diplomacy will occupy center stage on the Ukraine crisis.
Russia and Israel follow the same tactic. Both have placed their armies on high combat alert without divulging specifics.
In a display of muscle-flexing on the fifth day of he Ukraine crisis, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday dispatched six F-15 aircraft to patrol the skies over Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. This more than doubled the US warplane presence in the NATO mission for the three Baltic nations. He also boosted US training flights for the Polish military.