Hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present challenges to US interests: David Petraeus

March 18, 2010

General David Petraeus

US General David Petraeus has charged that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fomenting anti-American sentiment and limiting America’s strategic partnerships with Arab governments due to the perception of US favoritism towards Israel, US and Israeli media have said.

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” he said in a written testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the [Middle East] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world,” said Petraeus, commander of the US military’s Central Command, a zone that ranges from Egypt to Pakistan, but excludes Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Petraeus added that the “conflict also helps Al Qaida and other terrorist groups exploit that anger to mobilize support,” and gives Iran “influence”.

“A credible US effort on Arab-Israeli issues that provides regional governments and populations a way to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the disputes would undercut Iran’s policy of militant ‘resistance,’” he said.

The statement by Petraeus, a uniformed general particularly well-regarded in Washington for turning around the insurgency in Iraq, is a landmark in the US where judgements on essentially political issues have traditionally been voiced by American political leaders and policy-makers, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“Israel has strongly pushed back against similar attempts to place the Palestinian issue at the centre of America’s challenges with Arab countries and the wider Muslim world, particularly the notion that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to resolving the region’s woes,” the newspaper said. “The Israeli embassy declined to comment on his statements.”

According to an article in Foreign Policy, Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, was in January briefed about a growing perception among Arab leaders that the US was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing US standing in the region.

The briefing, prepared by a team of senior military officers from the US Central Command, was based on conclusions from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’ instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders.

“Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling,” a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing said. “America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.”

According to the article, the Mullen briefing hit the White House like a bombshell and the Obama administration decided it would redouble its efforts- pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with the chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi.

“While the American press speculated that Mullen’s trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had to see its conflict with the Palestinians “in a larger, regional, context” — as having a direct impact on America’s status in the region,” the article said.

When Vice President Joe Biden was embarrassed by an Israeli announcement that the Netanyahu government was building 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, the administration reacted.

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth said that an outraged Biden engaged in a private and angry exchange with the Israeli Prime Minister that reflected the importance the administration attached to Petraeus’s Mullen briefing. 

“This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

“The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism,” Yedioth Ahronoth said.

According to US media reports, leading conservatives began attacking the Obama administration after it aired its concerns.


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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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