The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier will dock in Haifa Bay next month for the first time in 17 years as it heads back to the Syrian coast to take part in the air campaign against the Islamic State terrorist organization (ISIS / Da’esh), the United States Navy said in an announcement.
The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv refused, however, to confirm or deny reports that the ship will dock in Israel for four days beginning July 1.
Sunday, a Super Hornet based on the massive carrier shot down a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 that was linked to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad near Raqqa. The city became an ISIS stronghold that has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.
The Pentagon said the 333-meter-long Nimitz-class carrier was moved from the Arabian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean last month. The ship is carrying a crew of 5,700 with 80 fighter planes and deployed from Norfolk, Va., on January 21 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military’s effort to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
As part of that deployment the strike group spent more than two months in the U.S. Central Command theater 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 some 20 armed Iranian vessels while passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Haifa served as a base for the U.S. 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 will include shore leave for most of the crew, and is expected to inject millions of shekels into the local economy.