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IDF liaison sets up shop in US CENTCOM offices in Florida, solidifying move

The officer, a former fighter pilot, is meant to boost communication between the militaries as they seek to counter Iran

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

(Left to right) 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)
(Left to right) 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)

The Israel Defense Forces dispatched an officer to serve as its first representative to the United States Central Command this week, further solidifying Israel’s move to its area of responsibility, the military said Thursday.

A former fighter pilot, the officer, who can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew initial, Maj. “Aleph,” will be stationed in CENTCOM’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

“As part of his position, he will be responsible for coordinating joint orders between the IDF and CENTCOM, in peace and wartime, strengthening operational cooperation and exchanging operational knowledge, among other things,” the IDF said.

After decades of working with the US military’s European Command, Israel was moved to CENTCOM earlier this year, in a move that was meant to improve the IDF’s ability to work with the US and its allies in the Middle East to counter Iran.

“Through cooperation in training, intelligence and operational planning, we will continue to tackle current challenges, chief among them the Iranian threat. I have no doubt that the joint work with CENTCOM and Gulf countries will continue to lead Israel and its security to great achievements,” says IDF Maj. Gen. Tal Kelman, who heads the military directorate tasked specifically with countering Iran, known as the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate.

(In IDF parlance, threats of a geographically immediate nature — like Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza — are referred to as being in the “first circle,” farther-flung enemies like Iranian proxies in Iraq are referred to as “second circle,” and yet more distant threats like Iran are said to be in the “third circle.”)

CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the military’s relationship with Israel at the beginning of last month.

Until recently, the State of Israel had been kept in the area of responsibility of EUCOM in order to prevent possible tensions between CENTCOM and the Arab and Muslim nations under its purview, many of whom did not maintain formal ties with Israel and would therefore not want to be considered as mutual allies. The US Central Command’s area of responsibility stretches across the Middle East to Central Asia, including the Persian Gulf region, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The previous arrangement allowed Israel to work closely with European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in European Command, but initially limited interaction between the Israeli military and Arab armies in Central Command.

Despite the move, Israel has continued to conduct training exercises with EUCOM units, including this month with the aerial Blue Flag drill, in which EUCOM pilots took part.

In recent years, however, CENTCOM’s allies have increasingly developed relations with Israel, some informally, so these issues have largely faded.

Though partially a symbolic move, including Israel in CENTCOM is expected to improve the direct communications between the Israel Defense Forces and American troops in the region and, through the US, other militaries in the region. The move does not portend changes in the basing of US forces in the Middle East or Europe.

The decision to move Israel to CENTCOM was made by former US president Donald Trump shortly before the end of his term, following lobbying from several pro-Israel groups in Washington and growing ties between the IDF and CENTCOM.

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