Israel Is at the Center of a New International Security Order
November 15, 2021
An alliance that spans from the U.S. through Europe to India is emerging to combat belligerent actors in the Middle East.
Iran couldn’t have been happy to see forces from Bahrain, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. Navy training together for the first time in history. Last week’s five-day drill in the Red Sea was intended to enhance interoperability among the countries, but also sent a strong message to Tehran: There’s now a large, organized bloc of countries opposed to its ambitions of regional hegemony. The bloc’s nexus is Israel.
The Abraham Accords—which Israel, the U.A.E. and Bahrain signed in September 2020—smoothed the way for last week’s joint exercise. Since the Cold War, Israel has been a part of the U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility rather than that of Central Command, which stretches from Egypt to Kazakhstan. Though it makes more geographic sense for Israel to be included in Centcom, doing so would have upset the many countries in that area of responsibility that until recently didn’t recognize Israel. If the Centcom forces trained with Israel, many other regional allies would have refused to conduct joint exercises. The Abraham Accords altered the geopolitical landscape. In January the U.S. announced Israel would become a part of Centcom’s area of responsibility, making it easier for the U.S. to organize joint military drills in Israel.
Last week I spoke with Maj. Shai Shachar, 33, commander in charge of the warfare branch of Israel’s elite counterterror school. He was part of another recent joint training with roughly 500 U.S. Marines. After arriving in early November in Eilat, a southern Israeli city on the Red Sea, the American forces traveled to a place called “little Gaza” in the Negev Desert to train with Israel commandos. They practiced urban battlefield tactics and even underground combat—in which Israelis are experts, having fought Hamas terrorists in Gaza’s cities and tunnels.
For the Israelis who participated, swapping knowledge with U.S. Marines was a unique experience. Mr. Shachar said the American soldiers had a remarkably similar war-fighting methodology and problem-solving approach to Israel’s commandos. He expects to see more training in the future.
Troops from around the world have come to Israel this year to train. Last month, air force units from France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. flew in the biennial Blue Flag drill over Israel. This year’s exercise included the largest number of countries since it began in 2013. In July Israel hosted American, British and German drone operators. The month before, Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. flew F-35s together as part of the Tri-Lightning exercise. In March, Cyprus and France joined the Israel-led Noble Dina naval drill for the first time off Cyprus’s west coast.
These exercises aren’t only to strengthen each country’s military expertise, but to build a new alliance system that stretches from India to Europe, with Israel as its linchpin. Israel faces daily threats from terrorists, from the fighting in Gaza in May to its frequent airstrikes in Syria against Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah. Military units that practice with Israeli forces gain real combat expertise and signal that Jerusalem has allies increasingly working to confront potential threats in the region. This military diplomacy is knitting together an alliance that connects further-flung countries like India or Germany through regional partners like the U.A.E. and Bahrain or Cyprus and Greece.
It’s also bridging a variety of foreign-policy controversies. This includes recent spats such as France’s frustration with its exclusion from a new submarine deal signed by Australia, the U.K. and the U.S., as well as Middle Eastern countries’ longstanding diplomatic distance from Israel. Even a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the U.A.E. air chief to visit Israel or Israeli companies to showcase new cooperation and technologies at the Dubai Air Show. The Abraham Accords changed all that.
These new collaborations have many potential uses, from fighting terrorist groups to checking Iran’s attempts at controlling the region. Where belligerent actors once faced a series of isolated countries, they’ll now have to tangle with an organized alliance that is intent on opposing them—even on the battlefield.