US shifts command plan to reflect warming Israeli-Arab ties

WASHINGTON (AP) — With a nod to Israel’s increasingly normalized relations with the Arab world, the Pentagon is reorganizing its global command structure to include the Jewish state in the military sphere managed by the head of U.S. Central Command.

The shift, from U.S. European Command to the command that overseas U.S. military relations and operations across the Middle East, was announced Friday. The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report the change, said it was ordered by President Donald Trump. It does not portend changes in the basing of U.S. forces in the Middle East or Europe.

Israel for decades had been in the sphere of European Command because of the hostile nature of its relations with many Arab countries, a condition that was viewed as making it difficult for Central Command to do business with both Israel and the Arab world. Central Command’s area of responsibility stretches across the Middle East to Central Asia, including the Persian Gulf region as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In its announcement, the Pentagon said the change to what it calls its Unified Command Plan reflects the easing of tensions between Israel and some Arab countries. It said the Abraham Accords of last year, which have normalized Israel’s relation with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan, “provided a strategic opportunity” for the United States to “align key partners against shared threats in the Middle East” — an apparent reference to creating a more united front against Iran.

“Israel is a leading strategic partner for the United States, and this will open up additional opportunities for cooperation with our U.S. Central Command partners while maintaining strong cooperation between Israel and our European allies,” the Pentagon said.