US aircraft carrier visits Israel for the first time in nearly two decades
It leads the United States' war against ISIS and with 75 aircraft on its deck has the ability to carry out numerous combat sorties a day. On July 3, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the USS George H. W. Bush docked opposite the Haifa Port and became the first sitting head of state to visit America's largest and most lethal floating war machine.
The docking of the ship on July 1 marked the first time an aircraft carrier visited Israel in 17 years.
"The visit of the USS George H.W. Bush speaks to the enduring commitment to our shared interests and a commitment to fight against our common enemies," Commanding Officer Capt. Will Pennington told reporters during a visit to the ship. According to a statement by the US European Command, the ship's visit is meant "to enhance US-Israel relations as the two nations reaffirm their continued commitment to the collective security of the European and Middle East Regions."
USS George H.W. Bush. Photo courtesy of the US Navy
According to Pennington, the crew is constantly engaged in cooperation with Israel, including sharing intelligence.
"There is a tremendous network of shared intelligence. As you are aware the airspace in the region is very, very, busy with lots of different actors so the need to deconflict that and make sure that everyone understands their missions is very important," he said.
Visiting the ship with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Netanyahu recalled his visit to another aircraft carrier 20 years ago.
"So much has changed since the first time I visited… our ties have gotten stronger and deeper," he said. "It is a floating island of America. It is a symbol of freedom and strength and victory."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The USS George H.W. Bush was in the region to participate in the fight against ISIS, carrying out its last operational mission on June 30. With 20-25 sorties per day, aircraft aboard the ship have carried out 1,600 sorties over both Syria and Iraq, striking targets in Mosul and in the vicinity of Raqqa on missions that can last seven to nine hours.
The targets which are directed by the coalition ground commander, are sometimes known prior to take-off and pilots have sometimes also received targets while in the air.
According to Carrier Air Wing 8 Captain James A. McCall, one of the real-time targets was the Syrian jet that was downed on June 18 in southern Raqqa province by one of the jets stationed on the aircraft carrier.
"The jet came within visual distance" McCall said, stating that US jets "warned the Syrian aircraft that they were approaching coalition friendlies. They (the Syrian regime jet) ignored the warning and even dropped bombs on the friendlies," he said referring to the Syrian Democratic Force who are supported by the coalition.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet takes off from an aircraft carrier. Photo courtesy of US Navy
Towards the end of its seven-month deployment, the USS George H.W. Bush arrived in Haifa after a 40 day voyage from Dubai.
While the ship will not be taking part in any joint exercises with the Israeli Navy, Israel provided security as it pulled into the Haifa Bay allowing the ship's strike group to continue to other missions and port calls.
"We are very tightly linked with our colleagues and partners and allies from the IDF and have been for very many years," Pennington said.
Speaking at a ceremony aboard the carrier, Admiral Michelle J. Howard, commander of the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, stated that the visit marks "a special moment" between Israel and the United States which "has had long standing military to military engagements with Israel."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on board the USS George H. W. Bush. Photo from DoD
"In this visit to Israel, the ship's might is a metaphor for the strength of the bonds between our countries. I'd like to thank the Israeli people for hosting us and for taking care of our Sailors," she added.
Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who visited the ship on Sunday stated that it was "a timely show of American power projection and deterrence capability."
"Its support for the countries fighting Islamic extremism and terror and Iran is very important, especially now when Iran is working to create facts on the ground in Syria, including a port on the Mediterranean, and Hezbollah continues to build its arsenal with more advanced and precise missiles."