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What Petraeus Actually Said

General thinks Israel is merely one factor in region

Marc Tracy
March 18, 2010
Gen. Petraeus testifying yesterday.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Gen. Petraeus testifying yesterday.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

According to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Vice President Biden did not, as some had alleged, tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israeli settlements endangered U.S. troops. But what about the venerable General David Petraeus, who heads the U.S. military’s Central Command (which is responsible for Central Asia and most of the Middle East)? He reportedly requested that the Palestinian territories be added to CENTCOM’s purview, on the grounds that events there were intimately linked to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We don’t need to guess what exactly Petraeus thinks, because he was quite candid yesterday before a Senate committee. He disclosed that adding the territories to CENTCOM has been discussed but never formally requested. And he argued:

The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the [area of responsibility]. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbullah and Hamas.

In other words: Everything is connected, but Petraeus does not perceive the Palestinian conflict as having an overwhelming effect on other conflicts.

Military journalist and historian Max Boot confirms that Petraeus never made this request. Speaking to a military source, Boot reports that Petraeus really does believe what he told the committee and that he does not think the settlement question creates the U.S. military’s biggest challenges over there. “In other words,” Boot concludes, “the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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