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Gantz meets top US general in first visit since Israel moved to Central Command

Defense minister, IDF chief meet with Gen. Kenneth McKenzie in Tel Aviv, lauding change that will allow for greater cooperation between Jewish state and Arab neighbors

(L-R) IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, CENTCOM Commander Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., and Defense Minister Benny Gantz  in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
(L-R) IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, CENTCOM Commander Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with the head of the United States military’s Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie in Tel Aviv on Friday for the first time since the Pentagon announced that Israel was moving under CENTCOM’s purview.

Gantz lauded the shift saying it would “afford Israel opportunity to deepen cooperation with new regional partners and broaden operative horizons,” according to a statement from his office.

The two were joined at the military’s Kirya headquarters by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who briefed McKenzie on Israel’s defense policy.

The defense chiefs also reviewed priorities and challenges shared by the two militaries, including regional threats such as Iran, Gantz’s office said.

The defense minister also thanked the CENTCOM commander for the US commitment to Israel’s security and for maintaining Israel’s military edge in the region.

(L-R) Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Commander of the United States Central Command, General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Both men stressed the “importance of the close collaboration and coordination between the Israeli and American armed forces, vital to the shared interests of the two countries and to regional and global stability,” according to Gantz’s office.

Also Friday, McKenzie held a roundtable discussion with several members of the IDF General Staff, including Kohavi, Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir, Military Intelligence chief Tamir Hayman, IDF Defense Attaché in Washington Yehuda Fuchs, and the head of a newly formed directorate specifically tasked with combatting Iran, Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman.

The meetings took place days after Kohavi publicly condemned US President Joe Biden’s stated intention to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying that such a move was “bad” and “not the right thing to do” and insinuating that if the White House went ahead with the plan, the IDF could take unilateral military action against Tehran to block its nuclear program.

McKenzie’s trip — his second as commander of CENTCOM — began with a short meeting with Kohavi on Thursday night. The two planted a tree together in honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, the military said.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Defense announced that Israel, which had been under the area of responsibility of the US military’s European Command (EUCOM), was being moved to the Central Command, which operates in the Middle East. This was meant to improve the cooperation between Israel and other countries in the region in confronting the threat posed by Tehran.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, and the head of the US Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie plant a tree in honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, on January 28, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Jewish state had historically been kept out of CENTCOM out of concern that it could cause friction between the US and the other countries in the region, most of whom held a negative view of Israel. This was no longer true of some countries in the Middle East, particularly those in the Persian Gulf.

Despite the announcement, Israel has not yet formally been transferred to CENTCOM’s area of responsibility.

“The transition planning is underway, and a final timeline will be subject to approval by the new administration,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Jessica L. McNulty told The Times of Israel this week.

“In the meantime, we expect continued cooperation between US, European Command and the Israel Defense Forces, and we expect more opportunities for cooperation between the Israel Defense Forces and US Central Command with additional partners,” she added.

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