'Military-to-military relationship remains ironclad'

US CENTCOM chief arrives in Israel to discuss cooperation, joint naval activity

Erik Kurilla visits elite Shayetet 13 commando unit with IDF chief Halevi, is briefed on recent operations; meeting with defense minister focuses on Iran

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

Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) (right) and IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, visit the Israeli Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 commando unit, April 27, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) (right) and IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, visit the Israeli Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 commando unit, April 27, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), arrived in Israel on Wednesday night for a trip focused on strengthening relations between the militaries, especially regarding naval operations.

Kurilla, who was being hosted by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, began his trip on Thursday with a visit to the Israeli Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 commando unit.

Kurilla was briefed by the head of the unit, Cpt. “Aleph,” who can only be identified by the initial of his first name in Hebrew. The briefing focused on the unit’s operations, recent joint activity with the US Navy, and recent intelligence assessments, the IDF said.

The IDF took the opportunity of Kurilla’s trip to release footage of recent joint Israeli-US naval activity in the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a strategic chokepoint connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

After the visit to the Shayetet 13 unit, Kurilla and Halevi held a separate meeting during which they discussed the “continued expansion of the cooperation and sharing of operational capabilities between the two militaries,” the IDF said.

The IDF said that in the coming weeks, discussions would be held between the deputy IDF chief, Maj. Gen. Amir Baram, and his CENTCOM counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gregory M. Guillot, in order to “continue shared operational planning between the militaries.”

“We are actively following the changes in the region, with an emphasis on the increase in Iranian hostility and terror activity. Precisely in this sensitive time period, there is great importance in the close relationship between the IDF and the US Armed Forces, we will continue the cooperation and the common commitment to the security in the Middle East,” Halevi said in remarks published by the IDF.

“As with every visit to the IDF, I was thoroughly impressed by the combat readiness I saw here. Our military-to-military relationship with Israel remains ironclad,” Kurilla said.

Later on Thursday, Kurilla met with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss Iran.

“The parties discussed developing regional challenges, with a focus on Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East region. This includes Iranian aggression in the maritime arena and the delivery of weapons to terror organizations and proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and the wider region,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the country saw a security escalation on multiple fronts over the course of a few days, with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli retaliatory strikes; a barrage of rockets from Lebanon; a rocket attack from Syria; a suspected Iranian drone launched from Syria and Israeli strikes in response; clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount; and deadly terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank.

Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) (center) meets with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) and IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, April 27, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Gallant has indicated that Iran is largely behind the escalation, detailing the sums Iran gives each of its terror proxies.

The ministry said Gallant “expressed the concerns of the State of Israel in regards to Iran’s progress in its nuclear program and aims to achieve nuclear military capabilities.”

The pair “expressed their shared commitment to deepen the unique cooperation and intelligence-sharing between their respective militaries and defense establishments,” the ministry added.

Halevi attended the meeting alongside Maj. Gen. Tal Kelman, the military official in charge of Iran affairs; Maj. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, defense attaché to Washington; and Dror Shalom, who heads the Defense Ministry’s political-Military Bureau.

CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the US military’s relationship with Israel in September 2021. 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.

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