WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s decision to move military responsibility for Israel from U.S. European Command to U.S. Central Command will help work toward a collective approach to security in a region where America’s main allies have traditionally been 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 combatant command 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. Lloyd Austin, the new defense secretary is reviewing the plans. McKenzie also noted that the move aligns DoD more closely with the State Department, 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,” McKenzie said. “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.
Such a philosophy for 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.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.