NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Norfolk-based USS Gerald R. Ford and support ships are on station in the eastern Mediterranean days after Hamas militants staged a low-tech and deadly attack on Israel.

The USS Dwight Dr. Eisenhower, which is also Norfolk-based, is not far behind. Its strike group is set to shove off from Norfolk Friday.

The Navy, it appears, is charting a course toward the unknown.

“This war will be a long one,” said Aaron Karp, a master lecturer of political science and geography at Old Dominion University. “We don’t know what’s going to happen and we can’t begin to guess,” as it appears Israel is preparing for what could be an extremely risky ground assault on densely populated Gaza.

Regina Mobley: They [Navy planners, recently] had to bring back retirees just to pull off a drill.

Aaron Karp: I trust the U.S. Navy to fully staff its ships. … The problem for the U.S. Navy isn’t getting the ships where they need to be, in terms of capability and especially personnel. It’s sustaining the entire U.S. Navy over the long term. That’s another question.

A new report revealed the Navy missed its 2023 recruiting goals by just under 7,800 enlisted sailors and officers. The Army and Air Force are also expected to miss their recruitment goals. As a potential ground assault nears, Karp is deeply concerned about the fate of hostages who could be held captive in a network of underground tunnels in Gaza.

“I would be very curious to know what the Israeli government is telling the families of hostages in Gaza,” Karp said. “A lot depends on what they are telling them. That their relatives, people they love, will be found and released? Are they giving hints of deals [or] are they telling them this is the time to be brave.”

He is also concerned about the 300,000 Palestinians, many of them children, who are now homeless. According to the New York Times, the United Nations is warning of disaster as Israel attacks Hamas.

“How do you invade Gaza and not kill a lot of civilians? That’s the big Israeli question right now,” Karp said. “They have the plans, they’ve got the PowerPoints and the spreadsheets. They know what to do. The difficulty of the situation is going to evolve; it’s going to change very rapidly.

And that rapid change, Karp said, will be fueled by something no one can control.

“The media plays an enormous role,” Karp said. “The media now means things it didn’t used to mean. It includes the power of social media, which is absolutely enormous. It means media that is uncontrollable. How do those figure into the mix?

As the escalation continues, Karp is concerned the war could trigger regional revolutions and the direct involvement of Iran.

“The great dangers actually extend beyond the immediate antagonist; they extend beyond Gaza and the Palestinians in Israel,” Karp said. “They include the entire region and for any country that gets involved in the region, there is the possibility to see revolutions in neighboring countries.

“There is a possibility, very remote … that Iran will feel compelled to intervene directly which would bring in other outside powers including the United States. So the danger for escalation is a real one.”