Hosting CENTCOM chief, Kohavi says Israel and US forming joint abilities versus Iran

IDF chief says plans being developed at ‘accelerated rate’; Michael Kurilla given tour of northern frontier, F-35 stealth fighter jets

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (left), meets with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi at the Nevatim airbase in southern Israel, on November 15, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (left), meets with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi at the Nevatim airbase in southern Israel, on November 15, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hosting a top US general, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohav said Wednesday that the two countries were developing “joint” capabilities to counter Iran.

Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), wrapped up his fourth official visit to Israel since entering the role in April on Wednesday.

In remarks published by the IDF, Kohavi said Israel and the US were “developing joint military capabilities at an accelerated rate” against Iran and other threats across the Middle East.

The IDF said Kurilla held a meeting with Kohavi and other senior officers regarding Israel’s efforts against Iran’s ambitions of establishing a significant military presence in Syria and its weapons transfers to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

The other generals participating in the meeting were Oded Basiuk, head of the Operations Directorate, Ori Gordin, head of the Northern Command, Tal Kelman, the military official in charge of Iran affairs, and Hidai Zilberman, defense attaché to Washington.

Maj. Gen. Gordin also gave Kurilla a tour of Israel’s northern frontier, detailing Hezbollah’s activities in Lebanon and of Iranian groups in Syria.

Kurilla was given a tour by Israeli Air Force chief Tomer Bar of the Nevatim Air Base in the northern Negev desert, where the IAF’s fleet of F-35i stealth jets is kept.

Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (center) meets with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi (right) and IAF chief Tomer Bar, at the Nevatim airbase in southern Israel, on November 15, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

At Nevatim, Kohavi and Bar presented Kurilla with “the overall picture of the threats in the Middle East, and the main points of the plan for the joint use of force.”

“I would like to express my great appreciation for our close cooperation with the US Armed Forces. Our mutual commitment is demonstrated on a weekly basis. We are operating together on all fronts to gather intelligence, neutralize threats, and prepare for various scenarios in either one or multiple arenas,” Kohavi said.

“We are training and developing joint military capabilities at an accelerated rate in the face of the developing threats in the Middle East, and against the Iranian regime in particular,” he added.

Kurilla later met incoming IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, who is due to enter the role on January 17.

The border wall that runs between Israel and Lebanon with the Mediterranean Sea in the distance, in Rosh Hanikra, Israel, on October 14, 2022. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the US military’s relationship with Israel in September last year. Until then, Israel had been kept in the area of responsibility of the European Command (EUCOM) in order to prevent possible tensions between CENTCOM and the Arab and Muslim nations under its purview, many of which did not maintain formal ties with Israel and would therefore not want to be considered as mutual allies.

In recent years, however, CENTCOM’s Arab allies have increasingly developed relations with Israel, some informally, so the issue has largely faded.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers due to long-stalled negotiations, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

Israeli F-35 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber through Israeli airspace on November 10, 2022 (Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said in August that Israel received “good hints” with regard to the US having a working offensive plan against Iran.

Israel has long pushed the US to prepare a military option against Iran, and US President Joe Biden said in July that he would be prepared to use force if necessary to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In a show of force last week, Israeli F-35i jets escorted two US B-52 bombers as they made their way back from the Persian Gulf over Israeli airspace.

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