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US CENTCOM commander arrives in Israel

Gen. Michael E. Kurilla is set to meet with IDF chief Herzi Halevi and other top defense officials.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (left) with U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Michael E. Kurilla during the "Juniper Oak" joint exercise in Israel, January 2023. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (left) with U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Michael E. Kurilla during the "Juniper Oak" joint exercise in Israel, January 2023. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Michael E. Kurilla arrived in Israel on Wednesday night for meetings with senior defense officials.

Kurilla has visited the Jewish state at least six times since he assumed his post last April.

He was set to meet on Thursday with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

Kurilla was wounded during a battle against al-Qaeda in Mosul, Iraq, in 2005 while serving as commander of an infantry battalion. He was awarded a Bronze Star with valor device after he “was shot three times but continued to fire back at insurgents while directing his troops.”

On Jan. 26, the five-day joint Israeli-American military exercise called “Juniper Oak” came to an end. The exercise saw unprecedented levels of cooperation between CENTCOM, which is responsible for the Middle East, and the IDF.

“Juniper Oak” tested Israeli-American readiness and boosted the operational connection between the two militaries to enable them to deal with “regional threats,” but the intended target audience for this message seems to have been Iran.

Some 6,500 U.S. commanders and soldiers took part, as did missile ships and fighter jets from both militaries, which fired on simulated naval threats. The two air forces also practiced a range of scenarios including the use of transport and mid-air refueling aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, search and rescue helicopters and B-52 bombers, which dropped munitions on targets in southern Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel Navy Sa’ar 5-class missile corvettes were refueled by an American tanker, and in the air, fighter jets and bombers were refueled by Israeli and American refuelers, including the American Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, which will be in the IAF’s inventory in the coming years.

Also in January, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with Kurilla at IDF military headquarters in Tel Aviv. During the meeting, Gallant emphasized the unique and powerful bond between Israel and the United States and the importance of deepening defense and technological cooperation between the countries.

He also commended the “great value” that the CENTCOM military framework provides to multilateral defense coordination in the Middle East, which he said contributed directly to regional security and stability. Gallant expressed his commitment to ensuring ongoing dialogue and further expanding cooperation, especially as it relates to exchanges “in the face of Iranian and proxy attacks on sovereign nations.”

In January 2021, as part of the Trump administration’s adjustments to the Unified Command Plan (UCP), Israel was transferred from the area of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to CENTCOM. This meant Israel is expected to engage in security cooperation (e.g., exercises, military sales, operational planning) with U.S. regional allies and partners also in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility—specifically, with moderate Arab states.

The Abraham Accords, signed in 2020, were a vital precursor to this move and a harbinger of future Arab-Israeli collaboration.

A meeting attended by the Israel Defense Forces Chief of the General Staff, the head of the IDF’s Strategic Directorate, Israel’s Defense Attaché to the United States, and the director of the Policy and POL-MIL Bureau in the Ministry of Defense on April 27, 2023. Credit: Ariel Hermoni (IMOD).

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