Pentagon officials said Friday that Israel has been shifted to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, delivering a major boost to allied efforts to counter the regional threat posed by Iran.
The Department of Defense (DOD) said in a Jan. 15 statement that Israel has been moved from the U.S European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility—where the Jewish State was previously placed amid acrimony from America’s Arab allies—and into the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.
The move paves the way for Israel, the United States, and Arab partners to conduct joint exercises and more effectively plan for Iran-specific threats.
“I think moving Israel to CENTCOM makes sense from a U.S. policy perspective in that many Israeli issues are tied to the other countries in CENTCOM’s [area of responsibility],” retired Army Maj. Gen. Mike Jones, former CENTCOM chief of staff, told Military Times.
The shift was made possible thanks to an easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors, in large part thanks to the Trump administration’s efforts to broker diplomatic normalization deals, known as the Abraham Accords.
“The recent Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain both reflect and augur a growing strategic alignment between Israel and key American partners in the Middle East, driven primarily by the worsening Iranian nuclear and regional threats,” the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), a pro-Israel think tank based in Washington, said in a statement.
Iran tensions remain high, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying on Tuesday that the al-Qaeda terrorist group has a new headquarters there.
“Al-Qaeda has a new home base, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a speech at the National Press Club. “As a result, bin Laden’s wicked creation is poised to gain strength and capabilities.”
“We ignore this Iran, Al Qaeda Nexus at our own peril. We need to acknowledge it, we must confront it. Indeed, we must defeat it,” he said, adding that “this axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself.”
In a November report (pdf), JINSA urged Israel be moved to CENTCOM, arguing that it could smooth the way for the Pentagon to utilize Israel more for regional operations, most directly by updating the U.S. stockpile in Israel with precision guided munitions and other weapons that could be used by U.S. forces in the region.
“It also could enable Israel, U.S. forces in the Middle East and Arab partners to begin or deepen regional cooperation on missile defense, exercises, strategic planning, intelligence sharing and other critical military activities,” JINSA said in a statement.
The move would bolster Israel’s ability to defend U.S. and Arab partners’ interests by “continuing to be the tip of spear against Iran and its proxies,” the report argued.
While it is unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will uphold the move, Dennis Ross, a former U.S. peace negotiator, told The Wall Street Journal that the shift was overdue and is unlikely to draw objections.
“I don’t think the Biden people will have a problem with it, and I think the Israelis will welcome it as a reflection of the new realities in the region,” Ross told the outlet.