As erupting violence in Jerusalem suggests a third intifada may soon take hold, the CENTCOM commander Gen David Petraeus, testifying before the US Senate Armed Services Committee today, gave a grave warning about the wider impact of a conflict that has been the epicenter of Middle East hostilities ever since the creation of Israel.
In issuing his warning, Petraeus — arguably the most influential even if not the highest ranking member of the US military — was reiterating a statement he made almost a year ago. The only difference between what he said in April 2009 and what he said today, was that he now acknowledges al Qaeda is being strengthened by the conflict.
He now says:
The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [CENTCOM's area of responsibility]. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. 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 Hizballah and Hamas.
If such a statement was being made outside the American political arena, it could be regarded as a rather bland expression of what has long been utterly obvious. Yet from the lips of a celebrated general, regarded by many as a potential future president, these words come as a bombshell.
Neoconservatives and the Israel lobby have worked hard and long to obscure the deeply corrosive regional impact of a conflict that successive Israeli leaders have either been unwilling or seemingly incapable of resolving. Others, who earlier said what Petraeus now says, have either been dismissed as poorly informed or worse, branded as anti-Israeli or by insinuation, anti-Semitic.
No such charge will stick to Petraeus. Indeed, if the Israel lobby was so foolhardy as to try and go after an American general who sometimes gets treated like a latterday Eisenhower, the lobby will be at dire risk of being visited by its own greatest fear: being branded as anti-American.