The US Central Command has just announced that its area of responsibility has been redrawn to include Israel. This action will strengthen the US military posture in the Middle East and improve US-Israel defense relations.
We wrote a September 2019 report, sponsored by Hudson Institute and the Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center of the University of Haifa, that appears to have been a key source of the idea.
Our report noted that from the US Central Command’s inception, its area of responsibility was the greater Middle East, but did not include Israel. Israel was assigned to the US European Command. The rationale for this strategic “gerrymander” was concern that Arab states might cooperate less if Central Command officers were in regular contact with Israelis. But the Middle East is changing.
Arab officials from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and elsewhere now openly talk of Israel as a strategic partner in opposing Iranian aggression, Islamic State and other Islamist extremist groups. Whether or not it ever made sense, the idea that Israel must remain out of Central Command was now clearly outdated. Our report therefore suggested redrawing the Central Command’s area of responsibility to include Israel.
The US Departments of Defense and State divide the world into regions. (The division schemes in the two departments are not the same.) Such divisions are administratively necessary, but they create impediments to sound strategic thinking. Officials responsible for a particular region tend not to pay as much attention to events, concerns, perceptions and capabilities outside that region.
The US combatant commands split Israel from the Arab states, just as they split Pakistan from India. Pakistan is within the Central Command but India is within Indo-Pacific Command. This meant that no US combatant command had the day-to-day responsibility to deal strategically with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Till today, none has that responsibility for the Pakistani-Indian conflict.
Central Command has always tended to be focused on Arab equities, rather than on Israel’s, and more on Pakistan’s than India’s. Meanwhile, the Indo-Pacific Command is more solicitous of India. And so on.
Central Command planners should take full advantage of America’s military and intelligence relationships with Israel. It was neither necessary, advantageous nor historically justified to exclude Israel from efforts by the Central Command to bolster its military plans through regional cooperation.
Israel’s inclusion in the Central Command’s area of responsibility adds to the ability of both states to respond effectively in a crisis. Moreover, this change now aligns maritime security equities and enables direct coordination on the sea lanes and at strategic choke points of the Red Sea that are vital to Israeli security and prosperity.
Moving Israel into Central Command’s area of responsibility will facilitate military cooperation with Israel. And it might promote more contact and cooperation between Israel and the Arab states.
Beyond reconsidering the Israel question, the Defense Department should reassess areas of responsibility of the three Eurasia-related combatant commands (Europe, Central and Indo-Pacific). Russia and China, the two peer competitors identified in the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, cover most of Eurasia and cooperate closely.
The global economic center of gravity moved to the heart of Eurasia, digital linkages ignore geography, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative is linking that vast region in ways not envisioned when the boundaries of the US combatant commands were set. Hence a thoughtful, strategic review is in order, and should include the Departments of Defense, State and Commerce.
Read in The Jerusalem Post