Published in The News, on Oct 23rd, 2023, By AFP
No one should take advantage of this moment to escalate to further attacks on Israel or, for that matter, attacks on us on our personnel,” he says
WASHINGTON: The United States warned Iran or its allies against any “escalation” in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas, two top US officials said Sunday, hours after the Pentagon moved to step up military readiness in the region.
“We are concerned at the possibility of Iranian proxies escalating their attacks against our own personnel, our own people,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CBS News. “We expect there is a likelihood of escalation.”
“No one should take advantage of this moment to escalate to further attacks on Israel or, for that matter, attacks on us on our personnel.”
Blinken said the United States, which had sent two carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean, was “taking every measure to make sure that we can defend them. And if necessary, respond decisively.”
Blinken’s words echoed — and served to reinforce — an earlier message from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who warned of a “prospect of significant escalation of attacks on our troops” in the region.
Their comments came amid growing fears that Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon, or other groups might take advantage of the tense situation over Gaza to enlarge the conflict and further stretch Israel’s military.
But Austin, speaking on ABC News, issued a stern warning: “If any group or any country is looking to widen this conflict and take advantage of this very unfortunate situation that we see, our advice is: don’t.
“We maintain the right to defend ourselves and we won’t hesitate to take the appropriate action,” he added.
The comments from the two most senior members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet came hours after the Pentagon said it was upping readiness in the region in response to “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces.”
Austin ordered the activation of air defense systems and notified additional forces that they may be deployed soon.
Austin did not say how many US troops would be added to those already in the region.
The Pentagon’s moves came after what Austin had earlier described in a statement as “detailed discussions” with Biden.
“These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for US forces in the region, and assist in the defence of Israel,” Austin said.
The steps continued the Biden administration’s response since Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip stormed Israel on October 7, taking more than 200 hostages and killing at least 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials.