The U.S. military no longer sees the Arab-Israeli war as a priority.
The military’s Central Command, in contrast to that of the administration of President Barack Obama, has not designated either the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a key threat to U.S. interests or regional stability. In a briefing to Congress, Centcom chief Gen. Lloyd Austin highlighted the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict in the Middle East as a leading threat while failing to deem the Palestinian issue a priority.
“Today, the Central Region is experiencing a deep shift, the total effects of which will likely not be known for years to come,” Austin said. “In some parts of the Levant, into Iraq, and even as far as Bahrain, we see a more obvious and accelerating Sunni-Shia sectarian contest.”
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on March 5, Austin reviewed threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East. The general, whose command covers most of the Middle East as well as South Asia, led with the Sunni-Shi’ite divide followed by what he referred to as the “struggle between extremists and moderate” Muslims.
“The growing activism of radical elements is of particular concern to the United States and our partner nations because the beliefs and practices espoused by many of these groups do not align with our values or the values of the majority of the populations in that part of the world,” Austin said. “The dangers of Islamic extremism are on the rise throughout the Central Region.”
In his testimony, Austin listed the 10 priorities of Centcom, which covers 20 countries. The list was led by the NATO stabilization campaign in Afghanistan, weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation, reducing Iran’s influence, defeating Al Qaida as well as military cooperation.
“We are also focused on the conflict in Syria,” Austin said. “It represents the most difficult challenge that I have witnessed in my 38-year military career. What started as a backlash against corruption and oppressive authoritarian rule has now expanded into a civil war.”
In the 45-page briefing to the House panel, Austin did not mention efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This marked a contrast to the briefing in 2013, when the Palestinian issue was deemed a key threat to stability in the Levant, and Centcom said it would help build the security forces in the Palestinian Authority.
“The year ahead is certain to be a decisive one throughout the Middle East and Central and South Asia,” Austin said. “The region is more dynamic and volatile than at any other time.”