What exactly are US special forces doing in Israel?

Secrecy is the name of the game when it comes to the Biden administration’s support for the Israeli genocide in Gaza.

By Connor Echols

As the Israeli military enters the second month of its operation in Gaza, questions continue to swirl around the exact nature of U.S. support for the war, with major potential implications for American interests in the Middle East.

The Pentagon has been fairly transparent about its actions outside of Israel, including the decision to move two aircraft carrier strike groups into the Middle East, among other naval assets and missile defense systems. But two more sensitive issues remain shrouded in mystery: What exactly are American special forces doing in Israel? And what weapons is the U.S. now giving to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)?

What are American soldiers doing in Israel?

U.S. special operations forces are stationed in Israel and “actively helping the Israelis” in a number of areas, among them efforts to “identify hostages, including American hostages,” a Department of Defense official revealed last week.

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The official did not share further details, but others told the New York Times that DoD “has dispatched several dozen commandos in recent weeks, in addition to a small team that was in Israel on Oct. 7 conducting previously scheduled training.” Other Western countries have also sent special operations forces “closer to Israel” in order to help with hostage recovery and potential civilian evacuations, according to the Times.

The Pentagon also dispatched a Marine Corps general with substantial special operations experience to advise Israel’s ground operations, but the general left the country prior to Tel Aviv’s ground incursion.

One official told journalist Spencer Ackerman that the U.S. is considering emergency “contingencies” in which U.S. special forces would directly assist with hostage recovery, but those plans remain hypothetical, according to the official. The only solid evidence of “direct” U.S. involvement has been a series of unarmed drone flights over southern Gaza that are helping to locate hostages.

Some eyewitnesses claim to have seen soldiers with American flag patches on the ground in Gaza, but no news outlets have substantiated this allegation. It’s also plausible that an Israeli-American soldier could have been wearing such a patch without permission from the U.S. or Israeli militaries.

As for the identity of U.S. soldiers in Israel, a White House photo from President Joe Biden’s October 18 visit appeared to show the president meeting with several members of Delta Force, the Pentagon’s premier counterterror and hostage recovery unit.

It is unclear if any non-special operations U.S. military units are currently operating in Israel. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment from RS about its operations in Israel.

Increased secrecy around weapons transfers

The Biden administration has taken flak in Congress for his attempts to conceal details about American arms transfers to Israel amid the war, including a proposed measure to skip congressional notification requirements that would provide lawmakers with an opportunity to object to specific weapons sales.

“There is no reason we cannot both ensure needed U.S. assistance is provided to Israel in an expeditious manner and ensure Congress is able to fulfill its constitutional oversight duty,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) — the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — told the Washington Post last week.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), for his part, said Congress “should not make exceptions to this practice” and argued that it is the legislature’s responsibility to “review these funds and ensure their use is in the best interests of the American people.”

While lawmakers have reportedly received full briefings about what weapons are being sent to Israel, the White House has avoided publicly sharing information about its support, a sharp contrast with the detailed accounting of the Biden administration’s aid to Ukraine.

The administration has not explained this discrepancy, but it most likely stems from simple political logic. While Biden has been proud to boast his team’s support for Ukraine, he stands to face far more blowback for supporting Israel, whose actions in Gaza have drawn significant criticism both within the U.S. and abroad.

This logic played out recently when it came to light that the U.S. is planning to supply rifles to the Israeli national police, which is controlled by far-right Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has promised to give guns to settlers in the West Bank. Former State Department official Josh Paul also told RS last week that multiple units of the Israeli police had previously been flagged for alleged “gross violations of human rights,” which should legally preclude them from receiving American weapons.

The only other planned weapons transfer to Israel that has been publicly disclosed is a previously approved shipment of $320 million in precision bomb kits known as Spice Family Gliding Bomb Assemblies. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) will reportedly fight this sale by filing a “resolution of disapproval” that would block the transfer if it received a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress. The kits are “the sort of capability Israel has been using for the last month to devastate Gaza,” according to Paul.

High stakes for U.S. interests in the region

Another likely reason for the secrecy around U.S. involvement is the fear that American support for Israel will hurt Washington’s standing in the Middle East, especially given the region’s widespread opposition to Israel’s offensive, which numerous Arab commentators have called a “genocide.”

If people in the Middle East come to believe that U.S. troops are directly involved in hostilities, it could have dire consequences for perceptions of American actions in the region. As a recently leaked cable from the U.S. embassy in Oman noted, Israel’s campaign is already “losing us Arab publics for a generation.”

That impact could be felt far beyond the region, according to Stephen Wertheim, a historian and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The costs, in American prestige and power, have already proved substantial,” Wertheim wrote in the New York Times. “And they could get much worse.”

And the potential consequences of direct U.S. involvement would not be limited to public opprobrium, argued Ackerman, the journalist.

“If SOF should enter Gaza as combatants, how might Iran, whose regional strategy is predicated on leading an ‘axis of resistance’ to the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia, feel compelled to respond?” he asked. “What would it choose to do? What would the impact be on Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.?”

Connor Echols is a reporter for Responsible Statecraft. He was previously an associate editor at the Nonzero Foundation, where he co-wrote a weekly foreign policy newsletter. Echols received his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, where he studied journalism and Middle East and North African Studies.

Video did not appear in the original article.

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11 responses to “What exactly are US special forces doing in Israel?”

  1. Gaze5 Avatar

    For more than seven decades, the Palestinian people have been subjugated by the Jews (and their U.S.-Western supporters) to a slow-paced Genocide, a hidden holocaust that is suddenly becoming public in Gaza. More than 17000 Palestinian civilians have been needlessly killed, including more than 5000 children and babies have been murdered. The UN Secretary General Guterres said: Israeli Jews have turned “Gaza into a graveyard for children.” Successive U.S. regimes have been the real perpetrators and violence instigators in Palestine.
    Jews cannot acknowledge that the vast majority of the world disagrees with them for particularly good reasons, not because of “antisemitism”, but because of the violence they are subjugated the Palestinians to. Arabs are the real Semitic people and Jews are the truly the anti-Semite Zionists.
    Western media and Western politicians cannot imagine HAMAS being noble and chivalrous fighters, and Israelis being cowardly child-killing terrorists, though such is obviously the case.
    It does not make sense and you cannot win war by killing women and children unless the aim is Genocide, a real and in broad daylight holocaust.
    Here in Australia, the country with the most Nazis-like draconian anti-Muslims laws, the regime and the media (without exception) are fully behind the Israeli Nazis and make it noticeably clear that they are proud of being complicit in the ongoing Israeli Genocide in Gaza. The words Palestinians and Palestine have been removed from the Australian vocabulary and are no longer in use here. Instead, the media and politicians are using HAMAS. Showing sympathy by using the words Palestine and Palestinians is unacceptable and have dire consequences.

    1. Jack Lomax Avatar
      Jack Lomax

      The Zionist have long been experts at mass killing and denying it and hiding behind the status of poor persecuted Jews. The Zionists are not protected and shielded by the American for love but rather because they control a vast amount of the money and power in that country

      1. Woopy Avatar

        Yes, “victimhood R US” Jews have been committing holocausts ever since their inception around 600AD, always claiming they are “victims”, forever they have been victims and collecting trillions of our tax dollars along the way.

        1. Realist Avatar

          What are their most proud accomplishments in their version of the Holy Bible (Old Testament)? The mass slaughter (genocide) of all the tribes and peoples that were currently living in the so-called “promised land.” The ancient Israelites were basically the same sort as the latter day Mongols, Huns and Visigoths et al. To this day the modern Israelis liken the Palestinians to the Philistines whom they ruthlessly dispatched for the impunity of living on fertile land they wanted to steal. Not surprising that the Jews in Europe were commonly lumped in with the nomadic lawbreaking Gypsies. If the Jews were an honest, humble peaceful people, like the indigenous Europeans, everyone would welcome them for their many resourceful traits and innovations, but too many of them (not all!) are dishonest, unpleasant and endlessly contentious. It was not unfair of our ancestors to protect themselves against the predatory factions of these oft time aggressors, just as we have always policed our own populations. And, no, Europeans were not without equally heinous faults that, sadly, escaped needed justice, such as the cruelties imposed in our many far flung colonies around the globe. The place name “Belgian Congo” should say it all to anyone inclined to nominate any European ethnic stock for living sainthood.

  2. Woopy Avatar

    Nothing changes that stays the same. In 1917 US military went to Europe to enforce and honor the Jewish Balfour agreement by fighting for Zionist British. Today and for 70 years the US has backed Zionist white supremacy Jews of Israel by providing them with weapons, money expertise plus many other things. It was the US that provided the Israeli white supremacy intelligence to surprise attack Egypt in 1967. Nothing has changed.

    1. scrdmgl Avatar

      Propaganda hides the fact the members of the Five Eyes like my country Canada, are also participating in these criminal enterprises all over the world along with US forces. Unfortunately since Canada is not at war with anybody, I consider our military forces just mercenaries and as such, they should be eliminated without mercy. What else?

  3. waldemar00070 Avatar

    What are American soldiers doing in Israel?
    Why, facilitating mass murder of children. When has it been otherwise?

  4. Gene Avatar

    In Washington DC, the Jews are demonstrating in support of Israel barbaric war and demanding the extermination of the Palestinians. Israel is already using Phosphorous Gas and Depleted Uranium. Let’s hope President Xi will tell Biden to stop the barbaric Palestinian Genocide. Since 2006, Gaza has been subjugated (with U.S. complicity) to a slow-paced Genocide, a hidden holocaust that is suddenly becoming public. More than 17000, including 5000 children Palestinian civilians have been needlessly killed. A Palestinian child/baby is dying every ten minutes, slowly and agonizingly beneath the rubble of what used to be her home, hardly matters to Western politicians/Congressmen and their Zionist media. The UN Secretary General Guterres said: Israeli Jews have turned “Gaza into a graveyard for children.” In fact, the Jews have turned Gaza hospitals into mass grave graveyards. It does not make sense and you cannot win war by killing women and children unless the aim is Genocide, a real and in broad daylight Holocaust. According to UNICEF, one million Palestinian children are in danger of being killed by Israelis with nowhere safe to be in Gaza.

    1. scrdmgl Avatar

      That was the plan exactly since day one, racial cleansing through genocide. We need to understand that this actions fall in line with Zionist plans to create Lebensraum for a Greater Israel. Eventually taking all the land between the two rivers, the Jordan and the Euphrates in Iraq. The masses of the world ignore this fact despite Israel publicly declaring this policy, this happens because most common people particularly in the US, don’t read the news just headlines at the most. I admit that the US regime, as agreed by annalists has mastered the art of public mental manipulation through a compliant media. This makes Nazi Germany’s Dr. Goebbels efforts in this area pale by comparison, kudos to American ingenuity.

  5. Realist Avatar

    I am sure that these patriotic, peace-loving, totally altruistic Americans are out doing nothing worse than committing the most innocuous of war crimes. Nothing that an esteemed practitioner of American exceptionalism wouldn’t be entitled, nay encouraged, to do. You want to complain about it? You’ll get the same as the regretful Palestinians are presently receiving.