Pentagon Insists Israel Conflict Has Not Escalated After Middle East Chaos Spikes

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Pentagon insisted Wednesday that the conflict between Israel and Hamas has not expanded throughout the region as violence escalated following U.S.-led strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen and retaliatory attacks on U.S.-flagged merchant ships.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder at a press briefing Wednesday declined to provide a more detailed assessment of strikes the U.S. and United Kingdom conducted on Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, aimed at degrading the Iran-backed militants’ ability to carry out further attacks on international shipping, or the U.S.’ two unilateral follow-on strikes. Since then, the Houthis have for the first time successfully attacked U.S.-flagged or owned merchant vessels, while other Middle East actors have also broadened the scope of violence.

“We are going to continue to work with our partners in the region to prevent those attacks or deter those attacks in the future, and we’re also going to continue to work very hard to prevent the Israel Hamas conflict from escalating into a broader regional conflict,” Ryder said.

“We currently assess that the fight between Israel and Hamas continues to remain contained in Gaza,” he added. (RELATED: US Navy Seizes Iranian Weapons Bound To Resupply Houthi Rebels)

Biden administration officials have reiterated that actions taken by the Pentagon in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel are meant to keep the conflict contained.

Ryder declined to provide specifics on how much of the Houthis’ weapons caches or launch sites the strikes destroyed or whether the latest salvo of attacks originated from the same places hit Thursday, citing concerns about operational security and whether the Houthis could gain insight into the U.S. military’s intelligence capabilities.

On Wednesday, an explosive-laden drone struck and sparked a fire aboard the Marshall Islands-flagged Genco Picardy, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said, marking the fourth reported incident since the U.S.-led strikes on targets in Yemen.

The Iran- backed group had expanded the scope of targets to include U.S.-owned and operated commercial vessels while already aiming at Israel-linked vessels, according to Reuters.

On Monday, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile striking the U.S.-owned dry bulk carrier Gibraltar Eagle, the U.S. military said. Then, U.S. forces destroyed four anti-ship ballistic missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen on Tuesday.

The Pentagon has said that the Thursday evening strikes degraded the Houthis’ ability to carry out further attacks. But, the strikes only took out between 20% and 30% of the Houthi’s total ability to continue launching missiles and drones at international shipping and U.S. Navy assets, The New York Times reported.

“Clearly they maintain some capability. And we anticipated that after any action, there would likely be some retaliatory strikes. And that’s what you’re seeing now,” Ryder explained on Wednesday.

Iran also escalated violence in recent days, claiming strikes on foreign intelligence facilities near Erbil, Iraq, and northern Syria on Monday. Tehran said Tuesday it used “precision missile and drone strikes” to target sites linked to the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan, CNN reported. In both cases, there were civilian residences and casualties reported. The U.S. condemned Iran’s strikes in Iraq as “reckless and imprecise.”

A U.S. official previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation no U.S. facilities were impacted in the strikes on Iraq.

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