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Petraeus: Israel's Intransigence Could Cost American Lives

By March 14, 2010

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Did you say Israel? Centcom Commander David Petraeus and Vice President Joe Biden have something in common now: the thorn and danger that Israel's "insults" represent for American policy in the Middle East. Ryan Crocker, in the middle, a former ambassador to Iraq, is now out of the picture. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The row over Israel's "insult" of Joe Biden and the United States (Hillary Clinton's and David Axelrod's word, not mine) continues, deservedly so.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim that he knew nothing of the announcement of 1,600 new units in Israel's colonization of Arab East Jerusalem, timed to smack with Biden's visit to Israel last week, isn't washing. The vice president's trip, designed to smooth over relations between Israel and the United States, may instead be a turning point for the Obama administration, though Biden missed a chance to make that turn more explicit.

As Thomas Friedman writes in The Times today (in a piece aptly termed "Driving Drunk in Jerusalem"), Biden

should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: "Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don't let friends drive drunk. And right now, you're driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you're serious. We need to focus on building our country."

I think that -- rather than fuming and making up -- would have sent a very useful message for two reasons. First, what the Israelis did played right into a question a lot of people are asking about the Obama team: how tough are these guys? The last thing the president needs, at a time when he is facing down Iran and China -- not to mention Congress -- is to look like America's most dependent ally can push him around.

The political ramifications in Israel or between Israel and the United States aren't the main issue here. What this "insult" is unraveling is what Friedman barely alludes to, though not clearly enough: Israel's posture is undercutting American credibility and interests in the Middle East (in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and even in the Arab heartland where open conflicts don't cloud perspectives).

Mark Perry makes that point in a remarkable piece for Foreign Affairs in which he reports on a January meeting instigated by David Patraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen. Petraeus warned Mullen that everywhere in the Middle East, and because of Israel's gratuitous manipulation of American policy, "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding." Petraeus requested to the White House that Palestine/Israel be included in his region of command (known as Centcom). He was rebuffed. This White House, like previous administrations, doesn't want "linkage" between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other conflicts in the Middle East.

It's a colossal blind spot. The fuel and fury of every other conflict, at least in the popular imagination's mind (the popular imagination that fanatics depend on and preach to) is rooted in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Resolve that one and the reason for being of such groups as Hezbollah, Iran's radical clerics and the Osama bin Ladens of the world is considerably diminished.

Petraeus' request didn't get anywhere. His message did. the Obama administration sent Mullen to Israel to meet with Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi, according to Perry, and tell Israel that it "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."

Israel didn't get the message, as its humiliation of Biden with the colonization announcement showed yet again. Biden had a private shouting match with Netanyahu. Perry goes on:

Not surprisingly, what Biden told Netanyahu 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." Yedioth Ahronoth went on to report: "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." The message couldn't be plainer: Israel's intransigence could cost American lives.
Perry's conclusion: say what you will about the power of the Israeli lobby, it does not compare with the power of the Pentagon/military lobby. Israel's short-sighted presumptions may be running out of immunity. If so, it's about time. But so far the Obama administration is still playing the game on Israel's terms. Huffing and puffing doesn't add up to getting tough in substance.

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March 14, 2010 at 5:36 pm
(1) Michael Dawson says:

I’d still wager very heavily that this is all a dog-and-pony show, the Obama strategy for striking a “frustrated” pose in order to preserve the policy status quo.

Letting Israel run wild is actually a very important part of overall ME strategy. It’s a great distraction/Trojan Horse, plus, at this point it’s long since taken on a key negative aspect as well. As Chomsky always says, letting downtrodden people improve their own lives constitutes “the threat of a good example.” The Palestinians obtaining something fair is that kind of a threat to the interests of the US corporate elite.

March 14, 2010 at 7:14 pm
(2) Gus says:

maybe the US is backing the wrong country in the middle east, should they really be backing the Iranians or Israel?

think of the benefits of supporting the Iranians, you would be looking at less conflict, and better relations with nearly all other middle eastern nations.

But to back a country which claims if they arent supported by the US ‘god’ will curse them is disgusting.

It isnt about nationality or religion, its about politics,

and Israel’s political view is dominance towards other nations and directly insulting them, it has happened on more than one occasion, but I think its about time we stood up and said “no”.

They have been ‘driving drunk’ for a very long time, take a look at how many peace treaties and offers by hamas to recognize and respect Israel? but every single time, the Israeli’s reject it, conduct a raid, or bomb the west bank and or Gaza and annex more land or religious sites.

It is about time we said no more, because this time they are trying to trigger a conflict in the middle east which would involve ‘Iran’, that is what general Petraus implies at the cost of American lives.

War with Iran is not on the table, its impossible and the USA does not have the means of fighting the Iranians at the present time. It would be a bloodbath.

Israel is in its own little delusional world where nazis still exist like the boogeyman, and the holocaust is always behind the corner. Lets face reality, the government needs to be put on anti psychotic medication.

if Israel failed to defeat and acheive its goals against a guerrilla force, how in gods name do they think they would face the Iranians? They were the ones who trained hezbollah, have more weapons, more men, and bigger missiles.

then again, the tables could be turned, If the USA were to abandon Israel, and find good grounds with the Iranians it could open up even better relations with Russia and South America. In fact such a move would Calm half the planet.

March 14, 2010 at 7:55 pm
(3) American Muse says:

Israel is a vainglorious country heading toward ultimate disaster. The Zionist vision is clearly racist and exclusionary. When a group brazenly anoints itself as “God’s chosen people” in its own self-serving scriptures, it communicates utter contempt for the rest of humankind. I think Jesus, a Jew himself, tried to correct this delusion.

March 15, 2010 at 12:30 am
(4) GoldmanJ78 says:

Israel has to be made to wake up. They have been sleepwalking towards disaster by trying to annex Arab land, and digging themselves and America into a useless and illegal hole.

It is about time Israel should get tough love. I just hope Obama is tough enough not to back down. Israel always does what it wants and watches America swallow its tongue. Even when it hurts America, and ultimately Israel itself. They cannot run an apartheid system and stay at peace. Two states side by side. It would be the best thing ever for Israel.

March 15, 2010 at 3:59 am
(5) B L Canary says:

” The message couldn’t be plainer: Israel’s intransigence could cost American lives. ”

That’s the point that never seems to quite get across to the average Joe, or Shmuel. Israel’s belligerence and self-serving posture will inevitably spark a confrontation that will end in war – a war not confined to a small patch of land on the eastern Mediterranean but an escalating conflict that will rapidly spread throughout the Middle East and thence to Europe, and beyond.

Israel’s intransigence can cost lives throughout half the world. If a child is allowed to behave whichever way it chooses, without any restriction and with no boundaries set to ensure its correct behavior it develops into a threat not only to its own family but to society at large. The Israeli government is currently that child.

March 17, 2010 at 2:39 am
(6) Syed Salim says:

This is the most objective report that I have seen coming from a western media. You hit the spot when you mentioned that many Muslims in the world see the conflict in middle-east as rooted from the Palestian-Israeli conflict. In the first 2 decades of Israeli conquest oevr West-Bank and Gaza there werent’t any religion-based group fighting against Israeli. The conflict waas viewed as a fight between Arabs and Jews. Many Christian and Commnunist Arabs fought alongside the Muslim Arabs. But because of Israeli’s arrogance, and help from the big brother, the issue has become has a religious one. Enter 1.2 billion fed-up Muslims. HAMAS, Hezbollah, Osama and others were born and have job descriptions. The Israelis have pushed their luck too much and the US was blind over the last 50 years. It is about time someone in the US stand-up to Israeli’s arrogance and REALLY look for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. Otherwise, the world will remain an unsafe place…for everyone.

March 17, 2010 at 8:46 pm
(7) thanks says:

Thank you people who
left comments and praise for your courage to write the truth. To know it for yourselves and share it.
I have respect for you where I must admit I did not have
much left after all the death and destruction your
government has inflicted on us directly and indirectly. The u.s. people didnt seem to mind at all.
To stand indifferent or pretend the
crimes against humanity is not happening to
the Palestinians by israel (backed b.y the u.s) makes one
no better than the criminals themselves.
For all of you who speak honestly and with an informed
mind I say Peace Be Upon You and
may your America live a long and prosperous

March 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm
(8) Molly says:

Whether you support Israel or not, it seems to be the consensus from all news sources that bad relations could negatively impact the U.S. in the Arab world: http://bit.ly/conAED

March 23, 2010 at 7:38 pm
(9) Carolyn says:

The problem here in American is ignorance about the real history of”The British Mandate”. The only thing that any of them know is from the very slanted movie, ” Exodus”. Like most of our history books since the 50′s, most of the truth in World History has been “redacted”, when it comes to the real history of what went on in the Levant before the State of Israel was born. How many people even remember that Jerusalem was not always a part of Israel? Does anyone remember the original demarcation lines of the Balfour Declaration which the British Mandate was taken from? It was “hijacked” into the area of Israel, and then later became the capitol of Israel against most world opinion and the Palestinians who for generations had lived and owned businesses there were banished because all of a sudden they were no longer “citizens” because they were not Jews. Unfortunately, the “Christian Right” has been just as guilty as the Jewish Lobby in perpetuating the myths that the Israeli’s are the “good guys”. It’s just too bad that they do not take the time to find out about the Haganah, or Deir Yassin! How about the terrorists, Sharon, and Began and Rahm Emanuel’s Father! They were all active against the Palestinians long before the British Mandate! The Israelis laugh at us while taking our money! I have nothing but disgust for our Marxist President, and if he is standing up to Israel, it can only be for his own personal agenda; he is incapable of doing anything else, so don’t pin your hopes on him taking advice, good or bad from anyone!

March 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm
(10) Coleman Stone says:

One need only read “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” to see who is running this country’s foreign plicy. If there was no Israel there would be no terrorism in the world as we know it today. If there was on USA there would be no Israel. EVERY TIME that the US tries to have some sort of talks about the Palestinians and there right to a homeland, Israel turns right around slaps us in the face, and builds new settelments. Israel would not exist if it was not for aid from the US. What do we get in return? Another slap in the face. Time to back the Arab nations in the next Middle-East war.

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