The Hamas attack on Israel out of Gaza is at a different level than in the past, a senior defense official said today. 

Hundreds of Israelis have been killed in the attacks that also killed 11 Americans, President Joe Biden said in a written release. Hamas terrorists have also kidnapped people in Israel and taken them to Gaza.  

“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas,” Biden said. “I have directed my team to work with their Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts.” 

The senior defense official said the unprecedented Hamas attack is notable for its violence. “I want to differentiate this from other times we have seen conflicts between Israel and Hamas in Gaza,” the official said. “This is ISIS-level savagery that we have seen committed against Israeli civilians — houses burned to the ground, young people massacred at music festivals.” 

We remain in constant, ongoing contact with our counterparts in Israel to determine, and then support, their most urgent requirements.”

Senior defense official

Since the attack on Saturday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has been working to make clear that the U.S. unequivocally supports Israel’s right to defend itself. Austin and the rest of the National Security Council have been calling allies and partners throughout the Middle East and Europe with this message. “We’re also making very clear to adversaries or those that might be entertaining entering this conflict to escalate it that they should think twice and not take advantage of the instability,” the official said. 

Austin spoke to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday and Sunday. Austin is getting operational updates and learning what equipment and capabilities Israel needs to defend itself, the official said.  

The United States is “surging” support to Israel, including air defense capabilities and munitions. “We remain in constant, ongoing contact with our counterparts in Israel to determine, and then support, their most urgent requirements,” the official said. “The bottom line is we are working as fast as possible to provide critically needed munitions of various types and other equipment.” 

Defense Department officials are also working with U.S. industry to expedite the shipment of military equipment that the Israelis had already ordered. “We’re also working across the DOD enterprise, including with U.S. Central Command, to assess what munitions and other equipment are in U.S. inventories that we can be made, that can be made quickly available to Israel,” the official said. 

The United States is also bolstering U.S. presence in the region. Austin ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The aircraft carrier has an embarked airwing and accompanying cruisers and destroyers. The force will conduct maritime and air operations in order to assure allies and partners throughout the region and ensure regional stability. The strike group is prepared for the full range of missions. 

Austin also ordered more Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16 and A-10 fighter aircraft to squadrons in the region. 

“These posture increases were intended to serve as an unequivocal demonstration in deeds, and not only in words, of U.S. support for Israel’s defense and serve as a deterrent signal to Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and any other proxy across the region who might be considering exploiting the current situation to escalate conflict,” the senior defense official said. “Those adversaries should think twice.” 

Iran is in the picture, but there is no proof of active involvement by that country. “Iran has provided support for years to Hamas and Hezbollah,” the official said. “We’ve long discussed Iran’s role in a equipping, training and providing guidance to militant groups. I’m not talking about any specific intelligence in here. But we’ve been very clear for years about Iran’s role in fomenting instability and inciting violence across the region.”

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