US deploys THAAD system, strike group amid “recent escalations” by Iran

The U.S. has deployed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile battery and additional Patriot missile battalions to undisclosed locations in the eastern Mediterranean in response to “recent escalations” on the part of Iran and its proxies over the war between Israel and Hamas, Lloyd Austin has said.

In a statement released on Saturday, the defense secretary said he had also ordered the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group to join the USS Gerald R. Ford group in the Central Command area, as well as asking further forces to be prepared to deploy to the region “as part of prudent contingency planning.”

He added that the steps he had taken would “bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for U.S. forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel.”

Austin’s comments come as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed militias—conducted two separate drone attacks on U.S. positions in the country earlier on Saturday, marking a fourth consecutive day of attacks on American forces in the Middle East.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile battery at an undisclosed location. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered one system to be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean as part of America’s deterrence in the region.
Lockheed Martin/Getty Images

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington D.C.-based military affairs think tank, said the attacks were “part of the Iranian-led effort to deter the United States from providing meaningful support to Israel.”

Iran has previously warned that a widely anticipated ground offensive on the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces—following attacks on Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants—as well as the U.S. Naval deployment in the Mediterranean risked an escalation to the conflict.

However, the ISW said Iran had signaled “its unwillingness to enter a direct conflict with Israel” and was instead “preparing for the Hamas-Israel war to expand into a regional conflict” and “would likely provide material and financial support to its proxies to fight Israel.”

Israel reportedly carried out airstrikes on two airports in Syria, in an apparent attempt to stem the shipment of arms from Iran to militant groups in Syria and Lebanon, including the Iranian-backed, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Syrian state media reported that the airstrikes on Sunday morning put the runways out of service at international airports in the capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are thought to have previously carried out such strategic attacks, but have rarely acknowledged the operations and have yet to claim responsibility for the latest strikes.

Newsweek approached the IDF via email for comment on Sunday.

On Saturday, Hezbollah mounted 11 attacks on IDF installations on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, including anti-tank missile strikes, following small arms encounters earlier in the week. The IDF confirmed there had been civilian and military deaths due to the latest attacks, but did not disclose how many.

“Hezbollah is playing a very, very dangerous game. They’re escalating the situation; we see more and more attacks every day,” IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said in an update on Sunday morning. “Hezbollah is aggressing and it is dragging Lebanon into a war that it will gain nothing from, but stands to lose a lot.”

There are currently seven THAAD systems operated by the U.S. Army, according to arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin.