The US Navy’s USS Gerald R Ford carrier strike group (CSG) has been ordered to return to its homeport at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia after an extensive deployment in the eastern Mediterranean region in the wake of the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

In a statement by the US Navy Sixth Fleet on 1 January, it was reported the 110,000 tonne aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford and its escorts were to return to homeport “in the coming days”, ahead of preparations for future deployments.

With the departure of the Ford CSG, the US Navy has sought to reconstitute its presence in the eastern Mediterranean through other assets, which includes the recent arrival of the Wasp-class amphibious ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) and the Harpers Ferry-class landing ship dock USS Carter Hall (LSD 50).

The US Sixth Fleet stated the USS Bataan and USS Carter Hall joined the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and have re-aggregated as the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) in the eastern Mediterranean. The ARG consists of the three ships and approximately 2,000 US Marines, offering a more flexible response force that somewhat mirrors the structure and capability of a smaller UK naval force deployed in late-2023 to the region.

The presence of the Ford CSG in the eastern Mediterranean region was intended to act as a deterrent to state and non-state actors that could potentially involve themselves in the Israel-Hamas war, which erupted in October and has since claimed thousands of lives. Iran is a known supporter of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and also has influence over other groups operating in the region such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Houthi movement in Yemen is also supported by Iran’s Al Quds force, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that deals in clandestine operations. Following the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the Houthi movement pledged that it would join the conflict and has since carried out a number of missile attacks on commercial shipping transiting through the Bab el Mandeb strait at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

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By GlobalData

Both US and UK warships deployed to the protect shipping in the Red Sea have shot down missiles or drone launched from Houthi territory in Yemen, with concern increasing that Western forces could get pulled into the Israel-Hamas conflict.

UK naval vessel delivers aid intended for Gaza civilians

Meanwhile, on 2 January the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) landing ship dock RFA Lyme Bay had delivered humanitarian aid to Egypt from Cyprus, intended for Palestinian civilians displaced by the Hamas-Israel war. The delivery includes over 10,000 thermal blankets, nearly 5,000 shelter packs, and medical supplies to be transferred to Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

From Port Said, the aid will be received by the Egyptian Red Crescent and will make its way to Al Arish and then through Rafah and into Gaza for distribution.

The UK announced it will spend almost £60m ($76.3m) in additional humanitarian funding in Gaza this financial year, trebling the existing annual budget to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs)”.

The most recent package of £30m in funding, announced by the Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron on his last visit to the region, has been allocated to partners on the ground including UNRWA, UNICEF, WFP, the OCHA Pooled Fund and the British Red Cross to support the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent Societies.

The UK MoD statement also stated that the UK would “continue to explore other routes for aid deliveries”, including a Cypriot initiative for a maritime corridor between Cyprus, Israel, and the OPTs, as well as a humanitarian land corridor from Jordan through Kerem Shalom.