In the never-ending debate about General Petraeus and Israel, a few more data points are in — and they buttress what I have said earlier, that he is hardly the Israel-basher that some on the Left (and in the Arab world) celebrate and others on the Right denounce.
Point 1: at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 13, Petraeus noted that some commentators had seized on one of the 11 factors he had mentioned to Congress as being important in shaping the Middle East — namely lack of progress “toward a comprehensive Middle East Peace.” He noted of his congressional statement: “It did not say anything about settlements. It didn’t say anything about putting our soldiers at risk or something like that. But it [lack of progress] does create an environment. It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.” And then he added: “I think it’s fair to say you could have said, ‘General, nonetheless, Israel is — has been, is and will be an important strategic ally of the United States.’ And that is fair enough. And I think that that’s something that we could and should have included in that, just to make sure that there was no missed perception about what we were implying by this.”
Point 2: at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on April 15, Petraeus paid tribute to survivors: “The men and women who walked or were carried out of the death camps, and their descendents, have enriched our world immeasurably in the sciences and in the arts, in literature and in philanthropy. They have made extraordinary contributions in academia, in business, and in government. And, they have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies. The survivors have, in short, made our country and our world better, leaving lasting achievements wherever they settled.” The line about building “a nation that stands as one of our great allies” was picked up in a news story by the Jerusalem Post. The newspaper might also have noted another section of his comments, which I intrepret as an oblique reference to Iran: “It is instructive, periodically, that we remember what can happen when demonic dictators are able to hijack a country. We should never forget that.”
Point 3: Petraeus sent a letter on March 30 to Congressman Buck McKeon, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who had asked for further clarification of the general’s views of Israel. The letter (which has not previously been released) noted Centcom’s “highest priorities… the issues that keep us up at night” are not Israeli-Palestinian relations but rather “militant groups, hostile states, and [weapons of mass destruction,” along with “the instability in South Asia, the activities and policies of the Iranian regime, the situation in Iraq and the growth of [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in Yemen.” Petreaus said that the peace process is important but no more important than “other cross-cutting factors mentioned.” He noted, as well, that neither an internal study that Centcom had conducted of the issue “nor my posture statement assigns blame for this lack of progress [in peace talks], nor do they link the lack of progress with the lives of U.S. service members.”
In sum, while Petraeus may assign greater importance to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process than some analysts (including myself) would, he is hardly anti-Israel. He hasn’t even expressed an opinion on the future of Israeli settlements, much less endorsed President Obama’s push to ban all Israeli building activity in East Jerusalem. That’s not his role. As I’ve said before, those who are (rightly) unhappy with the turn in U.S. policy against Israel should address their concerns to the White House, not to Centcom, where General Petraeus is primarily focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran — not on Israel.