The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its strike group are heading west toward the Red Sea to help support a limited U.S. strike on Syria, if needed, defense officials said on Sunday.
Russia, meanwhile, is sending a reconnaissance ship to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Interfax news agency reported on Monday. The reconnaissance ship Priazovye left Russia's naval base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol late on Sunday on a mission "to gather current information in the area of the escalating conflict," the report quoted an unidentified military source as saying.
Interfax said the Priazovye would be operating separately from a navy unit permanently stationed in the Mediterranean in a deployment which President Vladimir Putin said is needed to protect national security interests.
The Defense Ministry said last week that new warships would be sent to the Mediterranean to replace others in a long-planned rotation of the ships based there.
The U.S. Navy's Nimitz carrier strike group, which includes four destroyers and a cruiser, has no specific orders to move to the eastern Mediterranean at this point, but is moving west in the Arabian Sea so it can do so if asked.
"It's about leveraging the assets to have them in place should the capabilities of the carrier strike group and the presence be needed," said the official.
"We try to reduce the physics of time and space so we can be as ready as possible should we be needed," said a second official, cautioning that decisions about ship positioning in the Mediterranean were still being finalized.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday delayed imminent cruise missile strikes by five destroyers off the coast of Syria until Congress had time to vote on the issue, effectively putting any military action on hold for at least nine days.
The U.S. Navy doubled its presence in the eastern Mediterranean over the past week, as the Sixth Fleet deployed the USS Barry, USS Mahan, USS Ramage, USS Gravely and the USS Stout to Mediterranean waters.
The destroyers are carrying a combined load of about 200 Tomahawk missiles, but officials say a limited strike on Syria could be accomplished with half that number.
The Nimitz carrier group had been in the Indian Ocean supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan but was due to sail east around Asia to return to its home port in Everett, Washington, after being relieved in recent days by another aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman.
Given the situation in Syria, U.S. military officials decided to reroute the Nimitz and send it west toward the Red Sea, and possibly the Mediterranean, officials said.
As the U.S. continues to prepare for a possible strike, Israeli authorities began dialing down the preparations for possible fallout on Sunday, sending home some of the reserves units that were called up in preparation for a flare up. The alert levels involving Iron Dome, Patriot and Arrow anti-missile defense systems deployed across the country were also scaled back.
Iran is drawing conclusions
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his ministers that "we are in the midst of an ongoing event. It is not over. We are dealing with sensitive and delicate issues."
"We are handling the ever-changing situation responsibly and with much consideration. There is no room for personal remarks. We are handling things in a responsible, meticulous centralized fashion, as a responsible government should," Netanyahu said, stressing the importance of maintaining silence and refraining from making any "irresponsible" remarks to the press.
But Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman spoke out on the latest events on Sunday, saying at a party holiday event that "100,000 people were massacred in a neighboring country, in Syria, and the world is still just talking. The other part of the world is approaching these events just as a means of intensifying terror and bloodshed. The Iranians are taking full advantage of the situation, as it is unfolding, and pushing ahead with their nuclear program."
Dan Gillerman, Israel's former ambassador to the U.N., said that Obama's policy was painting the U.S. as "weak, indecisive, and losing its grip on regional power. This decision is a terrible display of weakness, sending a message to the enemies of the U.S. that they have no one to fear, and to the U.S.'s allies that they have no one to count on. There is no doubt that the Iranians are getting the message and drawing their own conclusions."