In the midst of what some experts are calling the worst crisis in U.S.-Israel relations in decades, a major new player has weighed into the always contentious politics of the Middle East peace process: Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command and the most iconic U.S. military leader of his generation.
The crisis began when Vice President Joe Biden was greeted in Israel with the announcement that the government there had green-lighted 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, a move that Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton quickly labeled "insulting" to the United States and destructive to the peace process. Even before Biden's trip, however, Petraeus had sent a team of senior briefers to the Pentagon to argue that the stalled Middle East peace process was a direct threat to U.S. interests and prestige in the region. According to CENTCOM, the lack of progress in Palestine fomented anti-Americanism, undermined moderate Arab regimes, limited the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships, increased the influence of Iran, projected an image of U.S. weakness, and served as a potent recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.
Do you think Gen. Petraeus' arguments are valid? What effect will they have on the Obama administration's Middle East policy and on the peace process writ large? Is the administration's recent more hard-line approach to Israeli settlements an early result, and is that hard line likely to continue given CENTCOM's strong backing? Given Petraeus' popularity with the American public, and Israel's concerns about Iran's nuclear program, can the Israeli government and pro-Israel lobby afford to criticize him too stridently and possibly alienate the Pentagon? Did Petraeus overstep traditional boundaries by what some are calling an "unprecedented" incursion by the U.S. military into foreign policy?