Yerushalayim (TPS) – The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier will dock in Chaifa Bay for the first time in 17 years as it heads back to the Syrian coast to take part in the air campaign against Islamic State, the United States Navy said.
The US embassy in Tel Aviv refused to confirm or deny reports that the ship will dock in Israel for four days beginning on July 1.
Sunday, a Super Hornet based on the massive carrier shot down a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 linked to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad near Raqqah, an ISIS stronghold that has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.
The Pentagon said the 333-meter-long carrier, part of the Nimitz-class, was moved from the Arabian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean last month. The ship, carrying a crew of 5,700 and 80 fighter planes, deployed from Norfolk, Va., on January 21 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military’s effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
As part of that deployment, the strike group spent more than two months in the U.S. Central Command area of operations in the Arabian Gulf where it attacked Islamic State targets in early March. Later that month, however, Rear Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, the ship’s commander, said the carrier was “harassed” and “threatened” by about 20 armed Iranian vessels while passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Chaifa served as a base for the US Sixth Fleet during the 1980s and 90s, but the Pentagon discontinued use of the coastal city in 2000 when the second intifada erupted. Next month’s visit, which will include shore leave for most of the crew, is expected to inject millions of shekels into the local economy.