CENTCOM head: Israel addition will lead to ‘opportunities’ for regional military cooperation

WASHINGTON — The decision to move Israel from U.S. European Command to U.S. Central Command will help operationalize the political Abraham Accords, with the long-term goal of having a collective approach to security in a region where America’s main allies have traditionally found themselves in conflict.

That’s the read from Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of CENTCOM, who said Monday that “bureaucratically, it’s just the thing that makes it a little easier to work those relationships.”

“We do a lot of business with Israel now just as a practical matter of fact, because their threats generally emanate from the east,” McKenzie said at an event hosted by the Middle East Institute. “In a certain way, this is just a natural recognition of that at the operational level.”

Just a few days before the end of his administration, President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to shift the COCOM authorities for Israel from EUCOM to CENTCOM, a surprise move that broke with years of Pentagon tradition. The move comes on the heels of a series of political agreements between Israel and its neighbors, known collectively as the Abraham Accords.

The DoD had kept Israel at EUCOM in order to avoid complicating the military relationships between the U.S., Jerusalem and its neighbors, many of whom Israel saw as an existential threat to their security. (A similar setup is why neighboring Pakistan and India fall under CENTCOM and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, respectively.)

The move will take “a little time to actually make it happen,” McKenzie said, with new defense secretary Lloyd Austin currently reviewing the plans. He also noted that the move actually aligns DoD and State, whose Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the political equivalent of CENTCOM, already oversaw relations with Israel.

The move allows CENTCOM to put an “operational perspective” on the Abraham Accords, McKenzie said, setting up “further corridors and opportunities to open up between Israel and Arab countries in the region” on a mil-to-mil level.

“I don’t want to overestimate the speed that this will happen, it’s going to take some time to occur, but it does make it a little easier for them to work together, and I think that is all a good thing,” the CENTCOM head said. “I think in the future, we would like to see — and you know for many years it has been an aspiration in U.S. Central Command — a collective approach to security here in the region.

A collective approach to security where “our friends in the region do more for themselves, is actually something that is entirely consistent with the [National Defense Strategy] and recognizing that we have limited — a finite number of military resources available globally,” he added. “So we’re going to need to make some shifts, and what we can do to help our neighbors work more closely together — anything we can do that brings them together is a good thing. And I think this is a step in that direction.”

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