WASHINGTON (AP) — The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp entered the eastern Mediterranean Sea this week as the U.S. positions warships to try to keep fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon from escalating into a wider war in the Middle East.

While the Wasp has the capability to assist in the evacuation of civilians if full-scale war breaks out between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanon border, that’s not the primary reason it was rotated in, a U.S. official said. “It’s about deterrence,” the official said.

A second U.S. official said the rotation is similar to how the U.S. sent the USS Bataan assault ship into the waters around Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on the country, with the vessel remaining for months in the eastern Mediterranean to help provide options and try to contain the conflict. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operational details.

U.S. European Command, which is responsible for ships operating in the Mediterranean, announced the move this week, saying the Wasp and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard would sail with the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill, which is used to transport Marines, landing craft, vehicles and cargo. The Oak Hill is already in the Mediterranean.

The Wasp also is sailing with the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, which can deliver troops either by on-deck helicopters or landing vessels.

It all comes as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group and Israel have exchanged near-daily cross-border strikes since the Oct. 7 attacks that launched the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, and they have been escalating gradually.

The Israeli army said last week that it has “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon, although any decision would come from the country’s political leaders.

Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that any Israeli military offensive into Lebanon would risk an Iranian response in defense of Hezbollah, triggering a broader war that could put American forces in the region in danger.

The U.S. military also has shifted other ships in the region. The Pentagon said the aircraft carrier Eisenhower, based in Norfolk, Virginia, is returning home after a deployment of more than eight months countering strikes from Yemen’s Houthi rebels on commercial shipping in the Red Sea that the Navy says is its most intense mission since World War II. The San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt will take the Eisenhower’s place.

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