IDF chief says joint activities with US in Mideast to be ‘significantly expanded’

Aviv Kohavi wraps up 5-day final official trip focused on Iranian threat; plans for handling Iran and terror proxies said agreed upon

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

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, right, walks with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi in Washington, on November 21, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, right, walks with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi in Washington, on November 21, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi on Thursday said joint activities with the US military in the Middle East would be “significantly expanded” in the near future, following a five-day trip to the US.

“In order to improve our capabilities in the face of challenges in the region, joint activity with the US Central Command will be significantly expanded in the near future,” Kohavi said in remarks provided by the Israel Defense Forces after he returned to Israel.

“At the same time, the IDF will continue to act at an accelerated rate against the entrenchment of the Iranian regime in the region,” he added.

Kohavi held meetings with senior American officials over five days, focused on the Iranian threat.

The IDF said Kohavi told American defense officials in Washington that the two militaries must accelerate joint plans for offensive actions against Iran.

On Monday, Kohavi had met in Washington with Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and CIA Director William Burns. He also met with Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog.

“During the discussions, it was agreed that we are at a critical point in time that requires the acceleration of operational plans and cooperation against Iran and its terrorist proxies in the region,” Kohavi said in remarks provided by the IDF Tuesday.

Two Israeli and one American F-16 fighter jets fly alongside one another during a joint exercise in southern Israel in January 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Kan public broadcaster reported that the Israeli and US militaries would hold an imminent drill simulating strikes against Iran and its proxies, citing the IDF, but a military source said they were unaware of such a drill, and there was no mention of such plans in the statement.

Kohavi on Tuesday visited CENTCOM headquarters in Florida, meeting with its head, Gen. Michael Kurilla, and joining a “situational assessment” meeting.

“The joint situational assessment held between the militaries focused on regional challenges, primarily the Iranian threat. During the assessment, a plan for the continuation of the joint activity and the establishment of dedicated teams to deal with the Iranian challenge was agreed upon,” the IDF said.

On Wednesday, the IDF chief met with US Navy Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Daryl Caudle at the USFF headquarters in Virginia.

Kohavi “toured a nuclear submarine and an aircraft carrier in order to deepen his understanding of their operational capabilities,” the IDF said.

Kohavi’s trip was cut several hours short, following a twin bombing attack in Jerusalem, and the kidnapping of the body of an Israeli man by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi holds a phone call atop a submarine at the US Navy Fleet Forces Command (USFF) headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, November 23, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Jerusalem opposes US President Joe Biden’s attempts to revive a nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers that traded sanctions reliefs for curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

But that disagreement has been less relevant lately, as nuclear talks have fizzled and the US has chosen to focus on addressing the ongoing protests in Iran against the regime.

Iran said Tuesday it had begun producing uranium enriched to 60 percent at its Fordo plant, a level it never reached before, and a short technical step away from the 90% enrichment necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed the move and said Tuesday that its chief, Rafael Grossi, had reported the development to its member states.

The US expressed “deep concern” Tuesday over the announcement, which was also condemned by Germany, France and the UK. “We’re going to make sure we have all options available to the president,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

This September 1, 2014 file photo, shows a nuclear research reactor at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary, but still prefers exhausting the diplomatic route first.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers amid 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.

While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, non-proliferation experts warn Tehran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Israeli officials have also warned of Iran’s proxies across the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen.

The official Washington visit was Kohavi’s final scheduled one as chief of staff, as his tenure is set to end on January 17.

AFP contributed to this report.

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