Petraeus sees what so much of Washington refuses to see: that Israel’s year-long contempt for Obama, initiated by the Gaza campaign, entrenched by Netanyahu’s victory and compounded by continued settlements and last week’s humiliation of Biden is a problem. More then a problem, Israel’s total impunity for its intransigence is becoming a liability for the advance of US interests around the world. Petraeus was so disturbed by a recent trip to the Middle East that he asked a team of top CENTCOM officers to brief Admiral Mullen, and asked that the region be made part of his command:
The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”
The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’s instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders.
“Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling,” a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. “America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.” But Petraeus wasn’t finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to Mullen requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command — or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus’s reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict.
Unless and until the US actually uses real leverage against the Netanyahu government, it will continue to work against American interests and endanger American lives.