WASHINGTON – US Gen. David Petraeus charged Tuesday that the Arab-Israeli conflict hurts America’s ability to advance its interests in the Middle East, fomenting anti-American sentiment and limiting America’s strategic partnerships with Arab governments.
Petraeus called the conflict one of the “root causes of instability” and “obstacles to security” in the region – which aids al-Qaida – and argued that serious progress in the peace process could weaken Iran’s reach, as it uses the conflict to fuel support for its terror group proxies.
Petraeus, commander of the US military’s Central Command, a zone that ranges from Egypt to Pakistan, but excludes Israel and the Palestinian Authority, offered the assessment in a prepared testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” he said in the written testimony. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the [Middle East] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.”
He continued that the conflict also helps al-Qaida and other terrorist groups “exploit that anger to mobilize support,” and gives Iran “influence” through its clients Hizbullah and Hamas.
“A credible US 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,’” he said.
In the past, Israel has strongly pushed back against similar attempts to place the Palestinian issue at the center of America’s challenges with Arab countries and the wider Muslim world, particularly the notion that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to resolving the region’s woes.
To the extent that similar judgments have been rendered before, they have traditionally been voiced by American political leaders and policy-makers. Petraeus, in contrast, is a uniformed general who is particularly well-regarded in Washington for turning around the insurgency in Iraq.
The Israeli Embassy declined to comment Wednesday on his statements.
In other remarks on Iran, Petraeus indicated that the West had made progress in setting back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Asked how much time remained before Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon, Petraeus did not give a precise answer, but did say, “It has, thankfully, slid to the right a bit, and it is not this calendar year, I don’t think.”
In his written testimony, he assessed, “It appears that, at a minimum,
Teheran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. Iran
continues to develop and improve its uranium enrichment infrastructure
and is likely to use its gas centrifuges to produce fissile material
for a weapon, should it make the political decision to do so.”
He also said that “the Iranian regime is the primary state-level threat
to stability in the region,” and that the regime uses the Islamic
Revolutionary Guards Corps to “execute covert aspects of its foreign
policy using political influence, covert businesses, lethal and
non-lethal aid, and training to militants supportive of the regime’s
agenda,” particularly in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
AP contributed to this report.