After months of violence and widespread protests along the Israeli-Gaza border fence, Israeli is quickly ramping up its military presence with a show of force a day after launching deadly airstrikes on Gaza in response to what officials say were two rockets fired from the strip earlier this week.
Reuters has reported some 60 Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers now stationed at a deployment area along the border as of Thursday, which is the largest reported mustering of forces since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
Special UN envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that "we remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent".
Meanwhile Israel retaliated in Wednesday airstrikes on Gaza, which reportedly killed at least one Palestinian while injuring several more. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further convened his security cabinet on the same day of the Gaza rocket launches and promised to take "very strong action" if such attacks continued.
On Tuesday Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted as saying, "We must land a strong blow against Hamas. That's the only way to lower the level of violence to zero or close to zero." He said that Israel's response must be harsh "even at a price of moving to a wide-scale confrontation".
Israeli press reports at the end of this week are consistently warning that"Hamas and Israel are one step closer to all-out war" as Israeli tanks and troops continue to muster at the border.
An Egyptian delegation is reportedly in contact with both sides and are trying to prevent a major conflict from erupting. One Palestinian official involved in talks with the Egyptians told Reuters, "The situation is delicate. No one wants a war."
However, the official described Gaza as at a breaking point: "Palestinian factions are demanding an end to the Israeli blockade that strangled life and business in Gaza," he said.
"Barring substantial steps to reverse the current course, this precarious sense of calm is doomed to give way under the mounting pressure. It is already beginning to fray," he added.
It appears tensions could explode into yet another round of war starting as early as this weekend. Given the threats of Israeli officials this week, it could slide into the bloodiest campaign in years.
A new poll conducted by Military Times and Syracuse University has found that nearly half of all active duty American troops believe the next major war is just around the corner.
The poll results show about 46% of respondents think the U.S. will be drawn into a new war at some point in the next year, which is a significant 5% leap above the same category in the Military Times poll taken last year.
Analysts who looked at the numbers believe military personnel fear global instability and the heightened rhetoric of the Trump administration especially related to world powers like Russia and China.
When asked about specific countries, troops said Russia and China were among their top concerns. The poll showed a big increase in the number of troops who identify those two countries as significant or major threats:
About 71 percent of troops said Russia was a significant threat, up 18 points from last year’s survey. And 69 percent of troops said China poses a significant threat, up 24 points from last year.
Some top Pentagon officials have voiced similar views. Last year, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Marines that he thought there was a “big-ass fight” on the horizon.
The Commandant reportedly told Marines stationed in Norway, "I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming.”
The overwhelming majority that identified Russia and China as the biggest threats to American security are perhaps the most shocking numbers - at 71 and 69 percent respectively, and are likely due to the preponderance of news stories concerning each country's military readiness and war games over the past year.
Other concerns that topped the list for active military personnel includes cyber-terrorism, as 89 percent of those surveyed saw it as a significant threat. One-third said the U.S. is under prepared to face this type of threat.
Interestingly, the threat of terror organizations that have defined much of the past nearly two decades of the post-9/11 "war on terror" — namely Al Qaeda and ISIS — were seen as less of a threat, with about 57 percent saying it was domestic terrorism that now constitutes the most pressing threat above foreign groups.
But perhaps the biggest shocker — and what could be the biggest affirmation on Trump's Korea policy yet — the poll for the first time saw North Korea recede into the background as a significant threat.
The biggest decrease shown in this year’s poll was North Korea, which was seen as a significant threat by more than 72 percent of troops one year ago, but in this year’s poll only 46 percent described the country that way.
In the last year, U.S. posture toward North Korea has also seen a dramatic shift. Trump moved from mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on social media last fall — calling him “Little Rocket Man” — to publicly proclaiming his respect for the controversial dictator, following a peace summit between the two in June.
Here's a breakdown of what the troops worry about the most in terms of most significant threat to American defense, via Military Times:
The report added this interesting commentary on North Korea: "One of the Military Times poll respondents, an Army recruiter with more than 18 years of service, said Trump’s handling of the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons looked risky at times, but overall the soldier approves of how Trump is going 'toe-to-toe' in negotiations."
“It was kind of scary, but he had the guts to go over there and stand up for what a lot of Americans are believing in,” the respondent told the Military Times.
However, a number of those interviewed believe President Trump is making the world more unstable, and this could lead the U.S. into major war. One soldier polled said she wouldn't reenlist as, “I feel it has never been this bad and with this many adversaries, because of the way he [Trump] chooses to do business.” She noted the possibility of a “constant conflict” occurring soon, which would involve "endless deployments and fighting".
“With the way we’re growing our force, I tell my soldiers the reason we are growing the force is because we need you, and we’re going to fight,” she said.
Yet the fact remains that since 9/11 the United States is already in the midst of a "forever war" as two decades of Afghan conflict approaches with no end in sight, increased numbers of American troops are quietly back in Iraq as advisers, and there's over 2,000 personnel stationed in eastern Syria.