March 25, 2010
Petraeus of ArabiaBy Avi Davis
[See important update below - editor]
If supporters of Israel have been roiled lately by the tense exchanges between Washington and Jerusalem, they are soon in for another shock.
On March 13, a report on the Foreign Policy Magazine website revealed that in mid-January, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East) arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen. David Petraeus had sent them to amplify his growing concerns at the lack of progress in bringing the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end. The briefing reflected a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S.is incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.
A shiver has since crept up the U.S. government's spine. They worry that a failed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians would couple Israeli intransigence with American weakness -- resulting in an ebb in Arab support for American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing vulnerability of American servicemen to attack.
The report, if true, should be of far deeper concern to Israel's supporters than a temporary spat over housing units in Jerusalem. For if the U.S. military, which has traditionally seen the State of Israel as an important hedge against the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East, now sees the nation as a liability, then we may be in for a fundamental realignment of American foreign policy.
In light of these revelations, it is worthwhile asking to whom David Petraeus has been talking. After all, Arab leaders are no paragons of virtue when it comes to leading by example.
Take Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Despite a thirty-year-old peace treaty with the Jewish state, his country never misses an opportunity to excoriate Israel at world forums and is a lodestar of anti-Semitism in a part of the world that has no dearth of Jew-hatred.
Then there is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. This avid seeker of peace has presided over a cottage industry of Israel demonization while doing nothing, despite his country’s bubbling oil wealth, to enhance Palestinian welfare.
Then, of course, there are our friends in Dubai, who have expended millions on tracking the hit squad that targeted Hamas kingpin Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, but who seem oddly uninterested in the clocae of muddied terrorist money that funnels through its financial institutions.
Petraeus' warnings to the White House have an oddly familiar historical odor to them. They hark back to the communiqués sent by envoys of the British Foreign Office in the late 1930s and the U.S. State Department in the 1940s to their civilian leadership. Back then, the argument made by both was that neither Britain nor the United States could afford to support the establishment of a nascent Jewish state since it would inevitably turn the Arab world against the West.
History proved them decisively wrong. British coddling of the Arabs proved disastrous as the sheikdoms tilted towards the Axis Powers during the Second World War and imperiled British access to oil as well as the approaches to India. After the war, the oil-rich sheikdoms discovered hungry, open markets in the West for their subterranean product. The Arab-Israeli dispute became only a shadowy afterthought and did not get in the way of the growth of their oil business nor their relations with the West. It was, oddly enough, not Western support for Israel that would ultimately turn the sheikdoms against the West, but the pressures of the Cold War and then the well-financed rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
We should wonder, then, whether Gen. Petraeus, like so many other Western diplomats, is responding to facts on the ground purposively divorced from their historical context. In doing so, he may be ignoring the fact that "the process" he complains about did not begin a few months ago, but has been ongoing for seventeen years. He may fail to realize that Israeli concessions have rarely been greeted with tears of joy by Palestinian leaders, but more often with the murder of Israeli citizens -- or that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated their agreements and have, time and again over the past seventy years, refused generous territorial offers put to them by the Brits, the United Nations, the United States, and Israel itself.
Perhaps Gen. Petraeus is unaware of any of this because history has, at least until now, been an insignificant element in modern diplomacy in the Middle East, with each round of negotiations mandating a virtual reset of relations, as if the past was a blank slate and not inked with shattered Palestinian promises or dripping with Jewish blood.
But even if Gen. Petraeus does not care much about history, he should certainly display a little more concern for the present.
In the likely event of a confrontation with Iran, Israel's military capability, the reach of its intelligence network, the strength of its civilian morale, and the determination of its leaders to deter another Holocaust offer strategic assets which cannot be found among Arab nations. In light of this reality, both Petraeus and our political leadership in Washington should shrug off their prejudices and expectations long enough to recognize that the Palestinian pantomime is a mere sideshow to the true menace rising out of the sands of the Middle East.
If history and our present predicaments have taught us anything, it is this: Western military leaders, schooled as they are in the practical realities of the world, should not allow themselves to be distracted by the importunings of a gang of self-interested autocrats who have shed as many tears for the welfare of their Arab brethren as Adolf Hitler once wept for the Sudeten Germans. They should be aware that no matter what Arab leaders explain to them about their tribal allegiances, their assurances have regularly proven hollow, their willingness to make genuine sacrifices for American security negligible, and their commitment to peace a fraud, offered as a sly purchase for American aid and protection.
David Petraeus credits T.E.Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom with giving him invaluable insight into how to handle Iraq's fractious tribal politics. What he would better glean from Lawrence, however, is that a strategy based upon an inaccurate reading of local or regional conditions will doom all military planning. Embracing false friends and dismissing true ones in a calculation of how to confront a growing military threat is just such an inaccurate reading -- and one that should be avoided at all costs.
Update: A clarification and partial retraction:
It has come to my attention that Petraeus has specifically denied the FP report and Max Boot has revealed the author, Mark Perry, to be a man with an anti- Israel agenda. See here.
Looks like I was not the only one gulled. Andrew Sullivan, Diana West and Robert Wright all based their pieces onthe same info. And I believe the blogosphere is humming with condemnations
I am actually a great admirer of David Petraeus and do not want to do anything to harm his reputation or to suggest that he is not a friend of I srael if that is not the truth. Not do I want to tarnish his reputation as a great American.
Everything else in the piece I stand by.