The United States will be adding Israel to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in a move to solidify Arab-Israeli efforts against Iran. This move by the Trump administration comes just a few days before President-elect Biden assumes power.
CENTCOM has been actively involved in operations in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf during the Global War on Terror.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that President Trump ordered CENTCOM to add Israel to the countries for which it has responsibility. Military Times wrote, “It is the crowning piece of Trump’s efforts to stitch together disparate nations with a common enemy, following the signing of the Abraham Accords, in which Israel normalized relations with former enemies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.”
For years, Israel, one of America’s closest allies, has been involved in the European Command. This is because, in the past, the state of Israel was not recognized by most of the region’s countries. Therefore, it was difficult for the U.S. to host Israeli generals and their Arab counterparts. But now that the regional situation has changed, Israel will become the 21st country of CENTCOM.
As with any decision of this magnitude, there will be both positive and negative ramifications. On the one hand, it is expected that including the Israelis in CENTCOM will improve military relations with the U.A.E. and other Gulf states that are working toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state.
Yet, there is a flipside. The Israelis have carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria during the ongoing civil war, targeting Iranian troops and their proxy militias, as well as Syrian forces and various installations. Thus far, there has been built-in deniability for CENTCOM with these airstrikes as the Israelis had not been part of CENTCOM.
Now, in the event of further Israeli airstrikes, CENTCOM could be blamed for any airstrikes carried out by the Israelis against Iran’s presence in Syria or Iraq. One of the things that worried the Pentagon was that the Iranian-backed forces may target U.S. troops in the region if they viewed the U.S. as being involved in such strikes.
In the latest series of airstrikes conducted by the Israelis in Syria, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) hit at least 18 different targets killing 57 people on Tuesday. Israel struck Iranian Quds Force and Hezbollah targets among others. These airstrikes were conducted with intelligence supplied by the United States.
An unnamed military source had said earlier this week that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had discussed Tuesday’s airstrike with Yossi Cohen, chief of Israel’s spy agency Mossad, in Washington at a public restaurant.
While Israel has normalized relations with many of its neighbors and other nations in the Gulf, seeing Israeli boots on the ground in CENTCOM’s area of operations, although sensible, isn’t expected to happen anytime soon.
Nevertheless, behind the scenes, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan have coordinated closely with each other in regards to the Islamic State (ISIS), Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, the hope is that including Israel in CENTCOM will improve the regional efforts to combat Iranian nuclear, conventional, and terrorism threats commonly made towards all CENTCOM members.
Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of CENTCOM did not respond to requests for comment by Military Times.