U.S. Central Command in Middle East to Include Israel

NEW YORK -
U.S. Army soldiers with their gear head to an awaiting bus, Jan. 4, 2020, as troops from the 82nd Airborne are deployed to the Middle East. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

In an unprecedented break with longstanding military policy, the U.S. Central Command for the Arab states of the Middle East will now include Israel.

Israel military policy had been overseen by U.S. Europe command, to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab states. The Wall Street Journal reported that the unexpected move from the Tump administration is a major coup for pro-Israel advocacy groups.

The move had been pushed by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which has long advocated for Israel to ally with Arab countries against their mutual enemy, Iran. The new military rules are expected to succeed in strengthening ties of mutual interest between Israel and other Middle Eastern states.

However, since the defense policy change was made in the last days of the Trump administration, it is possible for the incoming Biden administration to alter or cancel the new policy.

Dennis Ross, a former U.S. peace negotiator, said he expected the move would be welcomed by the Biden administration. “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 said.

U.S. defense policy had previously separated Israel from the other Middle Eastern countries in order to allow U.S. commanders stationed in the Middle East to engage with Arab states, without an association with Israel, which historically was considered a drawback.

One concern regarding the new policy is that it may overstretch Central Command, which

is occupied in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other tense areas in the Middle East.

General Anthony Zinni, retired Marine and former head of the Central Command, said “the timing could be right to do this.”

“We could see more Arab countries recognize Israel, so it makes sense to bring them all in under one unified American command,” Gen. Zinni concluded. “It will make security cooperation better. It would not have made sense in the past because there was too much mistrust. There was a fear then that if Israel was in the Central Command there would be U.S. intelligence sharing with Israel on its Arab neighbors.”

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smarcus@hamodia.com