On October 7, 2023, Israel suffered its most devastating attack in decades, orchestrated by the Iran-backed Palestinian militant organisation, Hamas. This conflict has significant implications for regional and international dynamics of geopolitics and geostrategic, based on roles played by various nations. On the day when US President Joe Biden visited Israel, a notable meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping took place in Beijing. They discussed shared interests about the Ukraine crisis, Pacific security, and certainly the security situation in the Middle East.
Before delving into the battle scenario of the ME, let us discuss the geostrategic interests first which are driving the battle drill of superpowers centring on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Firstly, the United States and its European and Asian allies are not interested in opening a new confrontational front beyond Ukraine and the Pacific. This ME front could be a quagmire for the Unites States of America and that could alter the global order, its rules, and the hierarchy of its actors. Secondly, the Eastern Mediterranean’s security system is in disarray, primarily due to growing tensions between Russia and Israel since the annexation of Crimea. Israel’s support for Ukraine against Russia has strained the relations. Thirdly, the increasing integration of Iran into the Arab political space after the Iran-Saudi agreement has threatened US-brokered peace agreements between Israel and Arab nations. Lastly, the ME, particularly the Eastern Mediterranean, has become the critical point for major geopolitical projects like the Silk Road and the economic corridor between India and Europe. Consequently, it has increased the cost of conflict.
The Biden administration knows any engagement of the US military in the Middle East would be a ‘Trojan Horse’ for America, but also understands how important it is to extend overt support to Israel ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. The political orientation of the Biden administration towards Israel is to maintain the strategic and historical relationship. The influential Jewish community and evangelical pressure groups play a decisive factor in American presidential elections.
The USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, along with another carrier named USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, are the seeming face of US’s commitment to resolve the crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a rare incident after World War II where two carrier groups are deployed in the same regional conflict.
The USS Gerald R. Ford, a new addition to the American naval fleet, has deployed at least half of its strike group to increase regional security in the Adriatic Sea. The carrier is accompanied by the cruiser, Normandy, and destroyers Thomas Hunder, Ramage, Roosevelt, and Corney. All these are modern Arleigh Burke-class vessels.
Also known as the 12 Carrier Strike Group (12 CSG), this has been deployed in various locations in the Eastern Mediterranean, including near the Red Sea, to deter missile threats and maintain a presence in the region. The extensive deployment of 12 CSG does not suggest an imminent military confrontation and advises the reduction of the level of risk in this area after satellite observations.
The potential restoration, refuelling, or enhanced security arrangements near Crete, Greece would put the striking group out of range from Hezbollah’s long-range missile threats present in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Furthermore, American reconnaissance aircraft, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, RC-135V/W Rivet, remain active in this area to provide ongoing surveillance guidance.
The temporary entry of the CSG into the European theatre of operations of the US Sixth Fleet elevates the significance of the European theatre in the European Command’s operational sphere. However, increased hostilities and a potential wider regional conflict led the British military logistics support ship to be deployed for possible evacuation. On the other hand, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is expected to advance towards the Arabian Gulf, indicating implications for a more significant military movement in this region. The US Department of Defence has deployed 300 troops to US Central Command to deter any outside groups from escalating the Israel-Hamas conflict and to protect the US troops already deployed in that area. Approximately 2,000 troops have been ordered to be prepared for deployment within 24 hours.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has strategically altered the deployment of its naval escort groups to challenge the leadership of the United States Navy in international maritime security operations. Due to the presence of China’s sole foreign naval base in Djibouti, the Middle East has gained importance in terms of naval deployments to protect oil trade routes. The current PLAN involves three naval escort groups, 43rd, 44th, and 45th, each consisting of a destroyer, a pair of frigates, and a logistical support vessel, actively monitoring Kuwait and the Horn of Africa.
Moreover, Russia has taken a clear stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict. Russia’s naval activities in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean are driven by dual objectives; influencing Ukraine’s actions and serving as a warning signal in the Black Sea area. Importantly, the deployment also indicates that the Russian military can intervene in the East Mediterranean. Russia’s kilo-class diesel submarine is detected in the Dover Strait of the English Channel, which is heading towards the Baltic Sea. Its hypersonic Kinzhal missiles are capable of reaching targets in the East Mediterranean.
Israeli indiscriminate airstrikes caused the loss of 9,000 lives, including 3,700 children. Many countries, especially those not in the West, are saying that powerful nations and their allies shouldn’t bend the rules of the international system to their advantage. Utilising this system only strengthens the argument that some nations are using human rights for their own purposes.