The HyperTexts

April Fools: Israel's Dangerous Gambit, American Lives at Risk

by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

The article below, which appeared recently in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, makes two very important points, which I have bolded. My comments appear in square brackets. I have also followed the article with relevant comments by several experts who have shared their interpretations of the confrontation between the two most powerful United States lobbies: the military lobby and the pro-Israel lobby. It seems the policies and actions of Israel are endangering both the mission and the lives of American troops. Should American support of Israel extend to favoring the lives of Israelis who squat on Palestinian land over the lives of our own soldiers? Shouldn't our soldiers' lives and wellbeing have the highest priority, until we can bring them home safely?

U.S. general: Israel-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiment

U.S. General David Petraeus said on Wednesday that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fomenting anti-American sentiment due to the perception of U.S. favoritism towards Israel. Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus explained that "enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the area of responsibility." [The text of the entire presentation is available online, at this link: prepared testimony.]

"Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with [regional] governments and peoples," Petraeus said.

[What I believe Petraeus probably means, but can’t say in so many words, is that our troops are being maimed and killed because Israel keeps stealing land and water from Palestinians, while denying them equal rights and justice, and this inflames the entire region. Of course it’s not politically correct for a U.S. general to say, “Israel’s reckless racist actions are getting our troops blown apart.” But the experts whose remarks follow seem to "read between the lines" the same way I did, when I read the Haaretz report.]

His comments follow a week of tense relations between Israel and the U.S. following Israel's announcement of plans to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem, which was made public while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country.

On Sunday, another prominent member of Barak Obama's government, chief political adviser David Axelrod, said ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was imperative for U.S. security. Speaking on Israel's announcement about building in East Jerusalem, Axelrod hinted that it was a deliberate attempt to thwart indirect talks with the Palestinians. "It was an insult, but that's not the most important thing," Axelrod added, saying that the move was disruptive to upcoming proximity talks with the Palestinians and that the approval during Biden's visit "seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace and security in the region."

[Why would Israel deliberately undermine the peace talks, before they start? I believe Bibi Netanyahu revealed the reason recently at a Likud party meeting, when he said the same policy that has prevailed in Israel for the last 42 years will continue to prevail: that policy being that Israelis will build wherever they please. The leaders of Israel have long maintained that Israelis should not be limited to only the land within the borders of Israel, even though the U.N. mandate that partitioned Palestine designated land for a Palestinian state. Most Americans are living in la-la land, while Muslims understand the actual reality. The leaders of Israel have been saying one thing to the American public (that they want peace), when their actions say the opposite (that what they really want is free land). That land may be "free" to Israelis who steal it without paying for it, but it is incredibly expensive to Palestinians, Americans and the rest of the world. In the past Israel's leaders were far more cautious about declaring their true intentions, but Bibi Netanyahu seems to have thrown caution and discretion to the four winds. ]

Responding to the possibility that Israel's move could have any effect on U.S. soldiers in the region, Axelrod said that he believed "that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I'm not going to put it in those terms."

[To me this seems like a diplomatic way of saying, “Yes, but I can’t say in public that the government of Israel is getting our troops maimed and killed." Axelrod didn't deny what seems obvious: that the mission of American soldiers  is being undermined by the policies and actions of Israel. The more their mission is prolonged, the higher the death toll on both sides. The logical things for Americans who care about the lives of our soldiers to do would be: (1) require Israel to do what every civilized nation must do, and abandon government-sanctioned racism by establish fair laws and fair courts for Israelis and Palestinians alike; or (2) stop U.S. funding and support of this new Holocaust of the Palestinian people and "divorce" the government of Israel, at least until Israel begins to act like a civilized nation. But our government seems incapable of doing anything logical or reasonable. So it seems likely that our troops will remain ducks in a shooting gallery, while Israelis continue to steal land and water from increasingly destitute Palestinians, until we end up fighting World War III.]

However, the top Obama aide added that he did "believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue." Axelrod said that the bond between Israel and the United States was "strong," but added that "for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave."

[The problem seem obvious. Americans want peace and we want to get our troops out of the Middle East. But as long as Israel keeps stealing land and water from the Palestinians, who have nowhere to go and are running out of options, peace is impossible. That means more events like 9-11, which means more fruitless, unwinnable wars. Together Israel and the U.S. could wipe out Iran. Is that Israel’s other main agenda? We already took out Iraq, even though Iraq was no threat to us. Israel gets "free" land in the bargain, while Americans get nothing but blood on our hands, decade-long wars, and trillions of dollars in debt. Surely it’s long past time to tell Israel that its main agenda, land-grabbing, has no appeal for Americans. Israel has plenty of undeveloped land within its own borders. Land stolen from the Palestinians in 1948 lies fallow to this day, because most Israeli Jews prefer to live in urban areas. Israel is spending billions of dollars (much of it provided by the American taxpayer) to build Jewish-only roads in Occupied Palestine, when its own highways have fallen into disrepair and have become death traps. Far more people are dying on those roads than in terrorist attacks. When terrorist attacks occur, the main underlying reason is Israel’s government-sponsored land-grabbing. Most of the world has understood this for some time now. All the Muslim world understands it. But American generals and senior politicians are unable to tell Americans the simple truth, in plain English: “When Israel steals land from Palestinians, the cost is events like 9-11, wars with Muslim nations, and the health, mental well-being and lives of American troops.” If we care about our troops, isn’t it time to tell Israel to cease and desist? Why can’t Israel build on its own land, like every other civilized nation on earth? Why should Americans subsidize “free” land for Israeli Jews with the lives of our troops, while amassing trillions of dollars in debts our children will have to mortgage their futures to repay?]

Here are the comments of experts on the Middle East and our military:

According to a piece titled "Driving Drunk in Jerusalem" by Thomas Friedman, a Jewish-American writer with three Pulitzer Prizes to his credit, Joe Biden should have: "snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: 'Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don't let friends drive drunk. And right now, you're driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you're serious. We need to focus on building our country.'"

According to Pierre Tristam, a native of Beirut who became an American citizen 1986 and now writes extensively about the Middle East, "The political ramifications in Israel or between Israel and the United States aren't the main issue here. What this 'insult' is unraveling is what Friedman alludes to, though not clearly enough: Israel's posture is undercutting American credibility and interests in the Middle East (in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and even in the Arab heartland where open conflicts don't cloud perspectives)."

Mark Perry, the former co-Director of the Washington, D.C., London, and Beirut-based Conflicts Forum and the author of nine books, makes a similar point in a piece he wrote for Foreign Affairs about a January 2010 meeting between General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.

According to Perry's report, "On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, 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. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries about the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that [George] Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) 'too old, too slow ... and too late.'"

The meeting was "unprecedented," as "no previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue." Therefore, the briefers were "careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus's instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders." The news was "pretty humbling," according to a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing. During the meeting, Petraeus warned Mullen that "everywhere in the Middle East" because of what Muslims almost universally perceive as Israel's "gratuitous manipulation" of American policy, "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding."

According to Perry, "two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command—or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus's reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region's most troublesome conflict."

[Interestingly, it seems the Pentagon verified the gist of Perry's report, by correcting a fairly minor detail, when a senior military officer said via email that "CENTCOM did have a team brief the CJCS on concerns revolving around the Palestinian issue, and CENTCOM did propose a UCP change, but to CJCS, not to the WH. GEN Petraeus was not certain what might have been conveyed to the WH (if anything) from that brief to CJCS." (CJCS refers to Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; WH is the White House; I believe UCP is the Unified Command Plan, which delineates the organizational structure of the Department of Defense.)]

According to Perry, Petraeus's request "was dead on arrival." It seems the Obama administration, like previous administrations, doesn't want "linkage" between Israel and various serious problems the United States faces, even though those problems are closely or directly related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

[Perhaps the most puzzling "unlinking" is that of the 9-11 attacks which led directly to two wars, since Osama bin Laden himself said the idea for the attacks occurred to him when he saw Muslim women and children suffering and dying because of the military actions of Israel and the United States in Lebanon. The U.S. Sixth Fleet shelled Lebanon with the largest guns afloat: the 16-inchers of the battleship New Jersey, in 1983. While I don't agree with bin Laden's tactics, I certainly don’t believe Americans should be contributing to the suffering and premature deaths (i.e., murders) of innocent women and children. But this curious "unlinking" of a series of catastrophic events to their likely source — the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of the Palestinians at the hands of Israelis — begs the question: can the Muslims be right, that where there is smoke, fire may well be the cause?]

According to Paul Woodward, in December 2006 the Iraq Study Group Report was explicit in making this linkage, saying "The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability."

According to Tristam, "It's a colossal blind spot. The fuel and fury of every other conflict, at least in the popular imagination's mind (the popular imagination that fanatics depend on and preach to) is rooted in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Resolve that one and the reason for being of such groups as Hezbollah, Iran's radical clerics and the Osama bin Ladens of the world is considerably diminished."

[In other words, if extremists couldn't point fingers at the suffering of Palestinians due to the injustices of Israel and the U.S., the fanatics and other extremists would have to start making sense, which isn't their strong point. By not treating the Palestinians as human beings with equal rights, Israel and the U.S. have opened a Pandora's box of evils, and now Americans are suffering the consequences. But the only people really profiting are Israeli robber barons, many of whom seem to be just as fanatical as the worst Islamic extremists. Why should we favor Jewish extremists who want to "cleanse" Palestine of Palestinians? I believe Americans should say, "We believe in equal rights for all women and children, and don’t support men of any race or religion who harm them." And we should be damn sure our government is not supporting or funding injustices which cause Muslim women and children to suffer and die, because there are 1.8 billion Muslims we have to share the planet with. But even if there were no repercussions, why should we contribute to the suffering and deaths of women and children? This has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic. Most Palestinians are Semites. This has everything to do with living up to the American creed that all human beings are created equal, and are entitled to justice and fair play. Israel refuses to play fair. This is leading not only to the suffering and deaths of Palestinians, but now also to the suffering and deaths of our troops.]

Rather than giving Petraeus jurisdiction, the Obama administration decided it would "redouble its efforts" by pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue. So George Mitchell was sent to visit to "a number of Arab capitals" while Mullen was sent to meet with the chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen's trip focused on Iran, Perry says the JCS Chairman actually carried a "blunt, and tough, message" that Israel had to see its conflict with the Palestinians "in a larger, regional, context" — as having a direct impact on America's status in the region. "Certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message."

[I wish someone would also point out that depriving human beings of human rights and dignity is just plain wrong. Don’t we say that to Muslim nations when we women and children being mistreated? Then why not say it to Israelis as well? Americans took steps to end government-sanctioned racism, so why can't our politicians speak forthrightly and say, "Racism and intolerance are wrong. If you want our support, behave like a civilized nation."]

But it seems that Israel didn't get the message, as Biden learned on his recent visit. According to Perry, Biden had a private shouting match with Netanyahu: "Not surprisingly, what Biden told Netanyahu reflected the importance the administration attached to Petraeus's Mullen briefing: 'This is starting to get dangerous for us,' Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. 'What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.' Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily, reported: 'The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and U.S. policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.' The message couldn't be plainer: Israel's intransigence could cost American lives."

[But if Israel's intransigence was the root cause of the 9-11 attacks, then it has already led to thousands of American deaths, and hundreds of thousands of Muslim deaths.]

Perry's conclusion: "Say what you will about the power of the Israeli lobby, it does not compare with the power of the Pentagon/military lobby. Israel's short-sighted presumptions may be running out of immunity. If so, it's about time. But so far the Obama administration is still playing the game on Israel's terms. Huffing and puffing doesn't add up to getting tough in substance."

[What almost no one seems to ask, but I think is a reasonable question, is whether 9-11 would have happened if our government had either forced Israel to treat the Palestinians like human beings, or had "divorced" Israel publicly, so Muslims no longer saw our governments as being joined at the hip.]

Woodward, commenting on Perry's report, said, "The shift, as expressed by Joe Biden last week and by the Petraeus briefing in January is that Israel is now being seen as a liability: the Jewish state is putting American lives at risk ... Such a shift marks a watershed in US-Israeli relations and so Perry’s report naturally raises questions. Indeed, the first line of defense from Israel and its supporters will be to claim that, on the contrary, recent events are nothing more than a bump in the road; that we can expect a quick resumption of business as usual between such close allies. For this reason, I asked Mark—who I have had the privilege of working with in recent years—to provide some background to his report. This is what he said:"

"My piece on the briefing of Admiral Mullen by CENTCOM senior officers has occasioned a great deal of comment, as well as some skepticism: how accurate is the account? Was it told to me by direct participants in the briefing? Is there any basis for imagining that Petraeus has any kind of hidden agenda, whether that is a desire to expand CENTCOM—or even hostility towards Israel."

"I won’t name my sources, even though it’s clear to people in the Pentagon—and certainly to General Petraeus—who they are. Was I told of the briefing by the briefers themselves? I will only say that there were four people in the briefing—the two briefers, Admiral Mullen, and Admiral Mullen’s primary adviser on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know two of the people involved in the briefing. Whether or not they are my sources is something for the reader to determine. The account is not only accurate, it’s a précis of what actually happened. There is a lot more to it. The White House, State Department and Pentagon have not denied the account, and for good reason: it’s true."

"Is there any basis for imagining that Petraeus has any kind of hidden agenda in ordering the briefing?"

"I have been reporting on the American military for thirty years. My work on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Four Stars, is the authoritative account on the subject. I have deeply rooted contacts in the military that go back thirty years. I have never met a senior military officer whom I do not admire. There is no greater insult than to believe that General Petraeus or any other senior American military officer would use the lives of American soldiers as a lever to enhance their own political future. My sense is that General Petraeus neither likes nor dislikes Israel: but he loves his country and he wants to protect our soldiers. The current crisis in American relations with Israel is not a litmus test of General Petraeus’s loyalty to Israel, but of his, and our, concern for those Americans in uniform in the Middle East."

"It is, perhaps, a sign of the depth of 'the Biden crisis' that every controversy of this type seems to get translated into whether or not America and its leaders are committed to Israel’s security. This isn’t about Israel’s security, it’s about our security."

[Every nation on earth is rightfully concerned about the safety and security of its own citizens. Is it "anti-Semitic" if Americans say we don’t want our soldiers—our own children!—to die so that Israeli robber barons and squatters can steal land from increasingly destitute Palestinians? Of course not. I'm an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry, not an anti-Semite. I'm also a father who doesn't want my children and grandchildren to die because someone in another country abuses women and children and steals their land and water. I hope all the people of the Middle East find peace. But I do not want my tax dollars to fund the injustices of Israel, and particularly not when those injustices endanger the lives of my own loved ones, and American soldiers. The cost of "free" land for Israeli squatters is far, far too high. A civilized nation builds on its own land, and respects the borders of its neighbors. Civilized men do not cause or allow women and children to suffer and die, so that a few robber barons can take land without paying for it. And friends don't let their friends drive drunk. If they insist on driving drunk, real friends will take away their keys. Clearly, it's time for Americans to insist that their Israeli friends stop driving drunk, or take away the keys. After all, our children are sitting in the back seat.]]

The HyperTexts