(JNS) The United States is preparing for possible mass evacuations of its citizens from Israel and Lebanon should the war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza spark a regional conflagration.
Four U.S. officials familiar with the government’s contingency planning told The Washington Post that Americans living in the two neighboring countries were of particular concern.
According to State Department estimates, around 600,000 U.S. citizens resided in Israel and another 86,000 were believed to be in Lebanon on Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, murdering more than 1,400 people, wounding more than 5,100 and taking 222 hostages back to Gaza.
The officials stressed that a mass evacuation is unlikely and the worst-case scenario. However, it “would be irresponsible not to have a plan for everything,” one official said.
While Israel prepares for a major ground operation to destroy Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah continues its attacks across the border from Lebanon. On Friday, the Shi’ite terrorist organization killed IDF reservist Omer Balva, 22, who grew up in Rockville, Maryland.
The U.S. is moving to strengthen its military posture in the Middle East in response to “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces” across the region.
This includes the activation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional Patriot air-defense missile system battalions, the Pentagon said on Saturday. It also includes placing additional troops in the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
The United States has already put 2,000 troops on heightened alert status for possible quick deployment to the Middle East.
There has been an increase in attacks against U.S. positions in the Middle East following Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel. The Pentagon said last Thursday that it had shot down missiles fired from Yemen that may have been headed to Israel. The incident came after recent drone attacks against U.S. facilities in Iraq and Syria.
Following the Oct. 7 terrorist rampage in the western Negev, the United States positioned two carrier strike groups in the eastern Mediterranean to deter other Iranian terror proxies such as Hezbollah from trying to take advantage of the situation. The United States has also been supplying Israel with military supplies and equipment.
The White House is reportedly “advising” Israel to delay its ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas. This is to allow more time to negotiate the release of hostages held by Hamas and for more humanitarian aid to enter the coastal enclave.
The Americans also reportedly want more time to prepare their forces for attacks on U.S. interests in the region by Iran-backed terrorist groups that could follow an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.
However, U.S. officials told The New York Times that Washington isn’t demanding a postponement and still supports Israel’s ground invasion and goal of eradicating Hamas in Gaza.
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