During Donald Trump’s last week as president of the United States he made several last-minute policy changes, but between the storming of Capitol Hill by far-right domestic terrorists and the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, some of these changes have flown under the radar and gone underreported. As one of his final acts, President Trump called for Israel to be shifted from the U.S. European Command Center to the U.S. Central Command Center. While this simple shift may not seem like a major event, it shows that Israel has created new and strong diplomatic relations with the Arab countries surrounding it.
The unified combatant commands are eleven “outposts” of the United States military. Seven of these combatant commands operate under an area of responsibility; these areas are separated geographically and are responsible for organizing military exercises for the countries they oversee, as well as lead the United States branches in those areas. The need for such foreign command centers emerged during World War II, as American bases abroad found the need for a unifying force in each region, one that every branch could report to, and that countries could work more closely with. These command centers were createa as the need for such a program developed in each region, with the European Command Center (USEUCOM or EUCOM) becoming the first to be established in 1952.
When the need arose for this type of military program in the Middle East, the tradition of keeping countries organized geographically ended. During Ronald Regan’s presidency, he established the Central Command (USCENTCOM or CENTCOM), and in 1983 when it was founded, only Egypt, one of the twenty countries to be included in this region, acknowledged Israel’s existence. Regan’s administration felt that Israel would not be welcomed in CENTCOM and simply left it as a part of EUCOM so that their military would still be able to participate in some form of international program.
But now, as diplomatic relationships in the Middle East between Arab countries and Israel have developed, with the signing of the Abraham Accords and ties between nations such as the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco becoming normalized, President Trump called for a regrouping of EUCOM and CENTCOM so that Israel would finally be organized geographically. This change in command centers has drawn praise from many Israeli officials. Defense Minister Benny Gantz released a statement, saying, “The Pentagon has moved military overview of Israel to Central Command, which includes other countries in the Middle East. This shift will further boost cooperation between the IDF and the US armed forces in confronting regional challenges, along with other friends with whom we share interests.” This idea of working against regional challenges and threats was echoed in a statement released by the Pentagon, “The easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors subsequent to the Abraham Accords has provided a strategic opportunity for the United States to align key partners against shared threats in the Middle East.”
Many officials speculate that the phrases “regional challenges” and “shared threats” refer to Iran. President Trump’s administration was especially aggressive with the country, pulling the plug on the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018 and assassinating Iranian miliary leader Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in early 2020. His administration’s approach to dealing with Iran the past four years was both a message to peace with other Arab nations and a strong warning for Iran.
This change must be fully implemented by President Biden’s administration, since President Trump did not have time to fully execute the order. However, it remains unclear if President Biden will end up giving this change the go-ahead. Biden has already alluded to rejoining the nuclear agreement with Iran, which would end heavy sanctions against the country and detract from President Trump’s strong stance against them. If his administration decides not to take immediate action against Iran, they may not pass this order so that CENTCOM doesn’t become too aggressive in the region.
It is important to understand that this change is at its core a gesture of peace to the countries surrounding Israel, and a call for unification against Iran as it threatens life for many countries included in CENTCOM by funding terrorism. If Israel is allowed to become part of CENTCOM, increased cooperation (at least from a military standpoint) is inevitable which could lead to another wave of diplomatic treaties in the region and another step towards peace.