US troops head to region as fears grow Israel's war on Gaza could turn into regional conflict

AFP , Saturday 13 Apr 2024

Troop reinforcements from Israel's ally the United States headed to the region on Saturday, with fears of wider war growing more than six months into Israel's war on Gaza.

US troops
File photo: US Army troops from the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 163rd Cavalry Regiment, board a C-17 Globemaster III during an exercise at Ali Al Salem Air Base, in Kuwait on August 10, 2022. AP


As talks for a Gaza truce and captive release dragged on, the region braced for the retaliation which Iran has vowed after the consular strike whose victims included two generals.

"We are moving additional assets to the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts and increase force protection for US forces," said a US defence official in Washington.

The United States already has tens of thousands of troops in the Middle East and provides billions of dollars worth of military assistance to Israel.

After Iran's retaliation threats, Israel said it was strengthening air defences and paused leave for combat units.

US President Joe Biden sent the head of US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, to Israel for talks.

Ways to retaliate

After meeting Kurilla on Friday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel and the United States stood "shoulder to shoulder", despite differences over the conduct of the Gaza war.

"Our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true -- they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties," Gallant said.

After calls with his Australian, British and German counterparts Thursday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: "Iran does not seek to expand the scope of the war."

But he said it had no choice but to respond to the attack on its diplomatic mission.

There are a number of ways Iran could retaliate, and not all pose the same risk of escalation, experts said.

"What is certain is that Tehran does not want a direct war with Israel, at least at the current stage," said Eva Koulouriotis, an independent Middle East analyst.

On Saturday, the Dutch foreign ministry said its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Arbil, Iraq, would remain closed on Sunday "in connection with the rising tensions between Iran and Israel".

Citing similar reasons, Germany reiterated a warning against travel to Iran.

France earlier warned its nationals against travelling to the region, after the US embassy in Israel announced it was restricting the movements of its diplomats over security fears.

German airline Lufthansa said its planes would no longer use Iranian airspace, and extended a suspension of flights to and from Tehran.

Its subsidiary Austrian Airlines made a similar move. Australian airline Qantas said its long-haul Perth-London flights would avoid Iranian airspace.

The Mideast tensions also helped send Wall Street stocks lower on Friday, as oil and gold prices surged due to concerns about a regional crisis.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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