Departing CENTCOM Commander Urges Israel to Integrate Missile Defense With Arab Allies to Counter Iran

The outgoing CENTCOM chief says the move can help Israel boost its ties with regional partners, as well as help counteract the 'over 3,000 ballistic missiles of various types, some of which can reach Tel Aviv' in Iran's hands

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Israel's Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, left, U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., center, and Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv
Israel's Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, left, U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., center, and Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel AvivCredit: Ariel Hermoni / Israel's Defense Ministry
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – A top, outgoing U.S. general in charge of military cooperation with Israel encouraged the country on Tuesday to integrate its air and missile defense system with its partners in the Middle East in order to combat the threat posed by Iran.

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the departing commander of the United States Central Command overseeing U.S. forces in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that such a step would bolster the security and the burgeoning cooperation between Israel and its fellow Arab CENTCOM members.

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"Everyone in the region is seized by the Iranian threat, and they want to be able to defend themselves against that threat — that threat is primarily in the air," he said, highlighting Iran's ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drone program. "That's a significant issue for nations in the region and Israel is going to be able to assist us in all of those areas."

McKenzie warned Iran's ballistic missile program constitutes an "exigent threat" to the security of every state in the region. "They have over 3,000 ballistic missiles of various types, some of which can reach Tel Aviv. Over the last five-to-seven years, they have invested heavily in the ballistic missile program. Their missiles have significantly greater range and significantly enhanced accuracy," he warned.

Israel's air-defense C-Dome test missile launches, in a photo released by the Defense Ministry on Monday.Credit: Israel Defense Ministry

"Iran continues to pose the greatest threat to U.S. interests and the security of the region as a whole. Through its proxies and clients, Iran has fomented conflict, an arc tracing from Yemen through the Arabian Peninsula, across Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and to the very borders of Israel," McKenzie added.

CENTCOM, under McKenzie's stewardship, officially assumed responsibility for the U.S. military’s relationship with Israel last September, largely thanks to Israel's growing normalization with other countries under CENTCOM's purview.

"The entry of Israel into the AOR [area of responsibility] has great opportunities, particularly in the area of integrated air and missile defense, which is one of the most pressing issues all the states in the region confront when they think about Iran," he said.

McKenzie noted that including Israel in CENTCOM helps operationalize and add a military component to ongoing normalization. He noted that the U.S. has and will continue to expand Israel's participation in exercises across the region, calling it an "invaluable tool" for helping partners lay plans for the future.

McKenzie further described foreign military sales relating to integrated defenses as an opportunity to use the Abraham Accords to counter China's growing influence in the Middle East.

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