Head of US military’s Central Command lands in Israel to meet with IDF top brass

Gen. McKenzie makes 1st visit since Pentagon announced Israel was moving under his purview; IDF chief Kohavi, who criticized Biden’s Iran plans this week, hails cooperation with US

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

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)
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 head of the United States military’s Central Command landed in Tel Aviv on Thursday for a two-day visit, his first since the Pentagon announced that Israel was moving under his purview, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie was scheduled to meet with the IDF top brass on Friday to discuss the threats in the region that they will now work together to confront, specifically those posed by Iran, according to the IDF.

“The military and strategic relations between the United States and Israel represent a critical component in the foundation of Israel’s national security and represent an advantage over our enemies. This cooperation has a key role in our dealing with shared threats, principally the Iranian threat,” Kohavi said in a statement upon McKenzie’s arrival.

Kohavi’s praise for cooperation with the United States came days after he 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.

“At the focus of [McKenzie’s] visit is a strategic situational assessment with the chief of staff… alongside the advancement of regional partnerships against emerging threats,” the IDF said.

The commander of US Central Command, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs reporters on the status of operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, at the Pentagon, Washington, March 13, 2020. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

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

On Friday, McKenzie was due to hold 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 Attache in Washington Yehuda Fuchs, and the head of a newly formed directorate specifically tasked with combatting Iran, Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman.

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.

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.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed