The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier passed through the straits of Gibraltar on Saturday on its way to the Middle East, according to the ship-tracking service FleetMon.

The carrier and accompanying vessels will take up a position in the East Mediterranean with the mission of what US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin described as an effort “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’s attack on Israel.”

It will be the second US aircraft carrier in the region, with the USS Gerald Ford recently taking up a position close to Israel.

Though the US has said that it won’t intervene directly in Israel’s attack on Gaza, it is widely understood that it is bolstering its presence in the region partly as a deterrence against Iran and its proxies from attacking US troops in Iraq and Syria.
The US military on Thursday struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups. This was in retaliation for a series of ongoing attacks on US military personnel in Iraq and Syria by forces allegedly aligned with Iran.

However, the presence of the aircraft carriers so close to Israel in the East Med is almost certainly also aimed at deterring the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah from opening up a second front as Israel’s attack on Gaza intensifies, with ground operations in the Palestinian enclave now expanding.

The US is Israel’s biggest ally, providing Israel with an additional $14 billion in military aid since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 and Israel responded with indiscriminate strikes on Gaza. It has supplied Tel Aviv with specialist military advisors, while refusing to back a ceasefire despite Israeli airstrikes killing 7,703 people, including over 3000 children.