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Israel formally moves to US Central Command’s area of responsibility

The move, announced in January, is meant to improve communucation and coordination between Israel and other US allies in the region in fight against 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 United States Central Command (CENTCOM) officially assumed responsibility for the military’s relationship with Israel on Thursday, taking over from the European Command (EUCOM), some eight months after plans for the move were announced.

“The realignment, announced by the [US] Defense Department in January, strengthens the strategic US-Israeli defense relationship and offers opportunities to deepen operational collaboration between the Israel Defense Forces and CENTCOM’s many partners in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

For decades, the State of Israel has 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 the Jewish state. 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.

IAF and AFCENT F-15 and F-16 jets are seen over southern Israel during the ‘Desert Eagle’ drill, on August 10, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

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.

“CENTCOM will now work to implement the U.S. Government commitment to a holistic approach to regional security and cooperation with our partners. The US Government’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security remains enduring and ironclad,” CENTCOM said.

In times of emergency, Israel has in the past received air defense assistance from the EUCOM — notably in 1991, during the First Gulf War, when Iraq fired dozens of Scud missiles at Israel — and the potential for future deployments of this type has remained, with the IDF and EUCOM regularly conducting air defense drills together, as recently as this year.

Though Israel was formally moved to CENTCOM’s area of responsibility on Thursday, it was not immediately clear if this would include air defense deployments. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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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