In a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus listed
what he termed "insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East
peace" as a leading obstacle to U.S. military cooperation. The Centcom chief
ranked this over such regional threats as weapons of mass destruction and Al
"Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale
armed confrontations," Petraeus said on March 16. "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."
Centcom said both Iran and Al Qaida have exploited Muslim anger toward
Israel. He said Teheran has used Arab-Israel tension to extend its influence
throughout the Middle East.
"The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its
clients, Lebanese Hizbullah and Hamas," Petraeus said.
Petraeus's statement was said to reflect the view of senior officers in
Centcom. Centcom officers, based on a December 2009 tour of the Middle East
and Gulf, reported widespread Arab frustration over the resolve of the
United States in helping its allies.
"Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling," a senior
Pentagon officer was quoted in a report on the Centcom tour by
ForeignPolicy.com. "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military
posture in the region was eroding."
Later, sources on the Senate Armed Services Committee said members had
been briefed on the Centcom tour of the Middle East. They said both U.S.
allies and adversaries have concluded that Washington was withdrawing from
"I am concerned that we are heading toward a situation in the broader
Middle East where our friends don't trust us and our enemies don't fear us,
because both doubt our staying power, our determination, and our resolve,"
Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the committee, said. "We may be
heading there, but we aren't there yet. And though this perceived lack of
U.S. commitment may take a lot of time and effort to reverse."
The U.S. military assessment was said to have been cited by Vice
President Joseph Biden during his visit to Israel in March 2010. Biden,
angered over Israel's decision to build 1,600 apartments in Jerusalem, was
quoted as having deemed Israel's actions as harmful to U.S. military efforts.
"What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are
fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan," Biden was quoted as telling
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
At the hearing, McCain asked Petraeus whether Muslim anger against the
United States was based in the rejection of Israel's existence. McCain also
asked Petraeus what could be done to reduce Israeli-U.S. tensions.
"Isn't it true that the Israelis left Gaza on presumption that there
would be progress and instead they got rocket attacks?" McCain asked.
For his part, Petraeus called for an intensification in U.S. efforts to
achieve peace between Israel and the Arabs. The general said a peaceful
Syria would also help block Iranian support to such proxies as Hamas and
"A credible U.S. effort on Arab-Israeli issues that provides regional
governments and populations a way to achieve a comprehensive settlement of
the disputes would undercut Iran's policy of militant resistance, which the
Iranian regime and insurgent groups have been free to exploit," Petraeus
said. "Additionally, progress on the Israel-Syria peace track could disrupt
Iran's lines of support to Hamas and Hizbullah."