Navy Presence Off Israel Grows as USS Mount Whitney Deploys to Region with Senior Admiral Aboard

Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney
Sailors assigned to the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney participate in a memorial ceremony off the coast of Normandy, France while in the English Channel, May 26, 2020 (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Damon Grosvenor)

The Navy's fleet commander in Europe and the command-and-control ship USS Mount Whitney are deploying to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea amid a U.S. military buildup in the region to support Israel as it wages a bloody war against Hamas, the service announced Wednesday.

In a released statement, the Navy said the Mount Whitney -- the 6th Fleet's flagship -- departed its port at Gaeta, Italy, "in support of U.S. operations." A Navy spokesman confirmed to that the commander of 6th fleet, Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, and his staff were aboard.

The sailing of the Mount Whitney and Ishee's putting to sea comes just days after defense officials confirmed that the Navy would send a second aircraft carrier strike group into the region and move a pair of ships carrying a Marine Corps expeditionary unit there as well.

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Aside from an additional show of force and support, the command ship and three-star admiral could make any potential operation run more smoothly by offering a senior leader close by for two large formations that are commanded by relative peers.

At the moment, the Navy has the USS Gerald R. Ford strike group in the area off the Israeli coast. Those six ships are commanded by a one-star admiral -- Rear Adm. Erik Eslich. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower strike group -- which is set to arrive in the region soon -- is also commanded by a one-star -- Rear Adm. Marc Miguez.

    The Mount Whitney has a crew of just over 300, including 150 civilian mariners from Military Sealift Command. The Navy's website on the ship boasts that it can "receive, process and transmit large amounts of secure data from any point on Earth."

    In addition to the deployed assets, the Defense Department announced Tuesday that it had placed around 2,000 troops on heightened alert to potentially deploy.

    At the time of the announcement, defense officials said they didn't know which specific units had received the order.

    To date, defense and White House officials have been clear that the U.S. military assets off the coast of Israel or in the nearby area are not conducting offensive operations against Hamas or the Gaza Strip.

    Israel declared war and has waged devastating counterstrikes against Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, after the group launched a surprise terror attack into Israeli territory earlier this month with rockets and gunmen aimed at slaughtering as many civilians as possible. The coordinated attack on a music festival and Israeli communities left more than a thousand dead.

    Top officials including President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Israel to pledge support as an increasingly large deployment of U.S. military assets moves into the region.

    Meanwhile, the situation north of Israel, in Lebanon, has also deteriorated in the last several days, and the State Department began allowing some employee family departures, as well as issuing a "Do Not Travel" order on Tuesday.

    The State Department said that U.S. citizens should not come to Lebanon due to "the unpredictable security situation related to rocket, missile, and artillery exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah or other armed militant factions," and because of the embassy's "limited capacity to provide support."

    The Associated Press has reported that the recent bombing of a Gaza hospital, which has further inflamed tensions in the area, has led to protests and clashes with security forces near the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon.

    Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the name of the commander of the Gerald R. Ford strike group.

    -- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on X at @ktoropin.

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