As the world waits to see whether the Israel-Hamas war will balloon into a larger regional conflict, two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups conducted exercises together in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea this week.

Sailors from the Gerald R. Ford and Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as two Italian frigates — Virginio Fasan and Carlo Margottini — and the U.S. 6th Fleet flagship Mount Whitney, engaged in “high-value unit defense, ballistic missile defense, replenishments-at-sea, cross-deck flight operations and maritime security operations,” the Navy said Friday.

More than 11,000 U.S. personnel participated in the three-day exercise.

The carrier Ford and its strike group warships were dispatched from elsewhere in the Mediterranean to off the coast of Israel following the Palestinian Militant Group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, amid fears that the conflict could engulf the region.

Those sailors were due to start wrapping up their deployment before the attack, but they have been extended.

Meanwhile, Ike and its warships arrived in the Mediterranean earlier this week.

The Ike carrier strike group was already scheduled to deploy, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the strike group to head to the Middle Eastern waters of U.S. Central Command following the Oct. 7 attack.

When the group will transit the Suez Canal and enter the Red Sea remains unclear, and the Navy’s statement about the dual-carrier exercise does not mention where Ike will head next.

Officials have warned other Iran-backed proxy forces in the region not to get involved in the Israel-Hamas war, and the Pentagon has dispatched additional Air Force fighter squadrons to the region for further deterrence as well.

U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria have come under air drone attack in recent weeks by Iran-backed forces, the Pentagon said, and the Navy destroyer Carney intercepted a bevy of rockets and drones fired by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen on Oct. 19.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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