March 15, 2010

Israel to CENTCOM?

I'm just back from a great conference at Wilton Park in the UK on how we can assess the effect of aid and development on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. I'll have much more to say about this later. But depite my well-documented and mischevous antagonism toward those doing quantitative analysis in the field of security studies, allow me to once again highlight the work being done by Eli Berman, Jason Lyall, Jacob Shapiro, Joe Felter and Company. Eli's presentation on the effectiveness of CERP funding in Iraq was, for me, one of the highlights of the conference. And although the conference was governed by Chatham House rules, you can read the paper behind Eli's presentation here (.pdf). Again, I will have much more to say about this later.

For now, though, one thing that caught my eye was this report by Mark Perry (prolific authorir?t=abumuqa-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B001P80L6O, father of Cal) in Foreign Policy on the case CENTCOM is apparently making to bring Israel into its area of responsibility. Briefly, there has always been a good argument for keeping Israel a part of EUCOM: what is the optic we send when a senior commander of U.S. troops in the region makes a visit to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt ... and then caps his trip off with a visit to Israel? Does that cause more suspicion among our allies -- Arab and Israeli alike -- than it is worth? And we can safely assume that EUCOM would resist such a move outright. With the establishment of AFRICOM, EUCOM's relevance has already been diminished. What would taking away Israel do?

But putting Israel in CENTCOM probably makes sense. Issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians affect quite a lot of CENTCOM's activities already, and it doesn't make sense to decouple what's going on with respect to the Middle East Peace Process and the command in charge of the Middle East. I worked on a review of CENTCOM strategy last year, focusing on the Levant and Egypt, and I confess -- and I am only speaking for myself here -- to having been frustrated in reviewing U.S. strategy concerning Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon without looking comprehensively at U.S. strategy toward Israel and the Palestinians. It doesn't make sense, right? So moving Israel and the Palestinian Territories over to CENTCOM is probably a wise decision, but I confess to not having fully thought out what the second- and third-order political effects would be.