Washington, Oct 23 (IANS): The United States is anticipating the Israel-Hamas war to escalate targeting US personnel, and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered redeployment of the strike group (two aircraft carriers and a third ready to go) to Persian Gulf and dispatch additional air defence systems to the region.
Some 2,000 troops have been put on alert to move into the Gulf as USS Gerald Ford and USS Eisenhower aircraft carriers with fighter aircraft are moving close to Israeli waters.
A third aircraft carrier - Bataan - has also been put on alert to move in as and when necessary, media reports said
The Biden administration expects the Israel-Hamas war to expand and US personnel could be targeted, two members of the Cabinet warned amid an increasing US military presence in the region, USA TODAY reported.
Serious concerns of safety were raised for American citizens just days after Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that the US will redeploy a strike group to the Persian Gulf and send additional air defence systems to the region.
Austin also ordered 2,000 troops to be ready to go to the Middle East as tensions have been rising ever since Hamas militants stormed across the border in a killing rampage of Israeli citizens on October 7, reports said.
The Biden administration has warned Iran, Hezbollah and other foes of Israel to keep out.But Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that that might not happen.
But Iran's Defence Minister had warned that "anything can happen anytime" if Israel's ground invasion of Gaza happens, in a veiled threat to Israel and US that it might involve itself in the war. It was not clear if Iran could ask Hezbollah to engage in the war more directly than before.
"What we're seeing is the prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region," Austin toldABC's 'This Week' on Sunday.
US troops are doing "what's necessary" to ensure they have the ability to respond, he said.
Blinken also endorsed Austin's concerns, telling NBC's 'Meet the Press' "we expect that there's a likelihood of escalation" by Iranian proxies directed against US forces.
"We are taking steps to make sure we can effectively defend our people and respond decisively if we need to," Blinken said, adding that he doesn't want to see a second or third front develop, which could happen if Lebanon-based Hezbollah joins the fray.
"We don't want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire. But if that happens, we are ready for it," he said.
Meanwhile, the second convoy of aid trucks has reached Gaza with food, water and other essentials with aid agencies on the ground such as the Red Cross and UN affiliates demanding more relief and also asking Israel to permit fuel to run generators as Gaza is without electricity, particularly in the hospitals.
Israeli forces are strictly monitoring the relief supplies entering Gaza and ensuring through back channels that food, water and medicines are reaching the civilians, and are not being hijacked by the Hamas.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres has visited the Rafah crossing in Egypt and witnessed the second convoy of relief trucks moving into Gaza. He said the aid was not enough considering that 2.1 million Palestinian civilians lived in Gaza and that more needed to move in.
As many as 700,000 people have reportedly fled to the southern border where the situation is equally bad.
Some 200 trucks are lined up at the Rafah crossing, aerial satellite photos revealed.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Monday that 222 families of hostages have been notified, including "quite a few" foreign nationals. The total rose from 212 on Sunday.
The much-anticipated massive ground assault by the IDF seems to be on the hold as the US has advised Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu to delay it until the hostages are released.
The US has also urged Israel to delay its ground invasion of Gaza to encourage hostage negotiations, improve the flow of humanitarian aid and to allow the US to prepare for attacks on "US interests" in the region, according to multiple media reports.
The New York Times and CNN, citing Joe Biden administration sources they did not name, said the USfully supports Israel in the planned ground invasion.
"Fast-moving events" since the release of two American women on Friday has prompted the Biden administration to suggest Israel to allow more time to negotiate for the release of more hostages, the Times reported.
The US is also leading the charge for a steady flow of aid to Gaza from Egypt. Convoys have crossed into Gaza in the last two days, but international aid teams say the flow must be increased considerably to combat the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the territory.