When Gen. David Petraeus was portrayed last month as having made statements suggesting that America’s support of Israel was imperiling the lives of U.S. soldiers, the usual anti-Israel suspects had a field day on blogs and websites. Turns out, though, that the general didn’t quite say what was being attributed to him.
As The American Spectator’s Washington correspondent, Philip Klein, reported last week, “a posting on the Foreign Policy website caused a firestorm by reporting that in January, Gen. David Petraeus ‘sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.’ “
Klein continues: “According to the dispatch by Mark Perry (an advocate of talks with terrorist groups), Petraeus requested that the West Bank and Gaza be shifted to his Central Command (from European Command) so that the U.S. military could ‘be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict.’
“The report, which was presented as context for the recent blowup between the Obama administration and Israel, was quickly seized on by critics of Israel as confirmation of their view that U.S. support for Israel hinders America’s national security interests…. But on [March 24], Petraeus poured cold water on the controversy….”
Responding to a question by The American Spectator at a press briefing during an appearance at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, Petraeus, writes Klein, “said he never requested to have the West Bank and Gaza added to his responsibilities as leader of the military’s Central Command. He said that ‘every year or so’ commanders submit a plan that takes a geographic look at their areas of responsibility, and then there’s discussion about whether it would make sense to redraw the boundaries. For instance, he said, last time Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti were shifted to the Africa Command.
“ ‘Typically, there’s a question of should we ask to have Israel and Palestinian territories included, because what goes on there is obviously of enormous interest to the rest of the Central Command area, which is the bulk of the Arab world,’ Petraeus said. However, he emphasized that it was ‘flat wrong’ to claim he actually requested responsibility for the areas….
“He also refuted the claim that he had sent a request to the White House, saying he ‘very rarely’ sends things to the president, and only does so if he’s specifically asked.
“In addition, he explained that the quote that bloggers attributed to his Senate testimony was actually plucked out of context from a report that Central Command had sent the Armed Services committee.
“‘There’s a 56-page document that we submitted that has a statement in it that describes various factors that influence the strategic context in which we operate and among those we listed the Mideast peace process,’ he said. ‘We noted in there that there was a perception at times that America sides with Israel and so forth. And I mean, that is a perception. It is there. I don’t think that’s disputable. But I think people inferred from what that said and then repeated it a couple of times and bloggers picked it up and spun it. And I think that has been unhelpful, frankly.’
“[Petraeus] also noted that there were plenty of other important factors that were mentioned in the report, including ‘a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place.’
“Petraeus continued, ‘So we have all the factors in there, but this is just one, and it was pulled out of this 56-page document, which was not what I read to the Senate at all.’
“Concerning the charge that American troops are at greater risk due to the perception that the U.S. is too pro-Israel, Petraeus said, ‘There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.’”
Klein notes that Petraeus “said the only point was that moderate Arab leaders are worried about a lack of progress in the peace process. ‘Their concern is that those who promote violence in Gaza and the West Bank will claim that because there’s no progress diplomatically, the only way they get progress is through violence,’ he said. ‘And that’s their concern.’”