TEL AVIV, Israel –
Senior U.S. Central Command leaders and staff visited their Israel Defense Forces counterparts in Tel Aviv last week to reflect on their decades-long partnership and explore ways to deepen security relationships across the Middle East.
The three-day exchange – a series of meetings to discuss issues such as exercises, defense agreements and shared security concerns – was the first executive-level progress check since the U.S. military realigned Israel from U.S. European Command to CENTCOM in September 2021, organizers said.
Officials said the move, directed by a presidentially approved 2020 Unified Command Plan, better aligns Defense Department and State Department frameworks, preserves Israel’s existing partnerships with European allies and opens opportunities to expand defense relationships with partners in the Middle East.
The new relationship with CENTCOM is “strong and continually growing,” said the commander of Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central). “AFCENT’s theater security cooperation, both with the IDF and other regional partners, has expanded and evolved over the last year,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot. “As the threats in the region change, so has the approach AFCENT takes alongside regional partners to address these challenges.”
Guillot said that issues such as countering the unmanned aircraft systems threat and integrating air and missile defense capabilities are too complex for one nation to address alone. Israel’s security relationships have expanded into maritime cooperation as well, said the U.S. Navy’s top commander in the Middle East.
“Israel was one of 10 nations during International Maritime Exercise 2022 that employed unmanned systems during complex scenarios at sea,” said U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces.
Billed as the Middle East’s largest maritime exercise and the largest unmanned exercise in the world, IMX22 attracted 9,000 personnel and nearly 50 ships from 60 nations and international organizations earlier this year.
Israel’s contribution to IMX22 helped demonstrate to senior naval leaders from around the globe that operating unmanned systems with artificial intelligence can be “game changing” for naval forces across the region, Cooper said.
As the relationship between CENTCOM, the IDF and other Middle East partners grows, leaders look forward to the future: “I hope to continue building on the trust and shared interests that underlie our relationship,” Cooper said.