The US Army feels Arab leaders have lost all faith in US administration promises, following what they see as Washington holding a hand out to Israel on settlement.
Commander of the US Army Central Command (CENTCOM) General David Petraeus sent a team of senior officers to meet with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen to express their concerns about the lack of progress in finding a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The senior officers came armed with a PowerPoint presentation putting forward the position that, in the eyes of Arab leaders the US is powerless to confront "stiff necked" Israel, and that this was harming the status of the US in the region. Petraeus also sent a position paper on this issue to the White House several weeks before Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel.
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In the wake of Petraeus's efforts, the White House has intensified pressure on Israel regarding settlements.
At the same time, in a rare step, the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) last night condemned the Obama administration's statement against Israel following the Israeli Ministry of Interior announcement about construction of hundreds of new apartments in East Jerusalem during Biden's visit last week.
An exclusive article in the online edition of US magazine "Foreign Policy" said that Mullen was astonished by the CENTCOM PowerPoint presentation, which included 33 slides and lasted 45 minutes. Petraeus's delegation reported to Mullen, according to the article, "in the judgment" of CENTCOM, Arab leaders have lost all faith in US administration's promises following what they see as Washington holding a hand out to Israel on settlement.
The CENTCOM officers told Mullen that Israel's stubbornness regarding the Palestinian conflict harms US prestige in the Middle East. The administration's representative to the region George Mitchell is seen as "too old, too slow and too late" senior Pentagon officials later said.
The briefing that the CENTCOM officers gave Mullen in January, two days after the earthquake in Haiti, was according to "Foreign Policy, unprecedented.
No commander in the region has so far expressed an opinion at what is considered, in principle, a political issue. For this reason, the officers briefing Mullen were at pains to point out that their conclusions were drawn after a tour of the region in December 2009, at the instruction of Petraeus, where they conferred with senior Arab leaders.
An officer in the Pentagon who knows about these meetings said, "Everywhere the CENTCOM officers went, they heard a most humiliating message. Not only is the US seen as weak, but its military power in the region is on the wane.
According to "Foreign Policy," Petraeus was not satisfied with just the presentation. Two days after the Pentagon briefing, he sent a position paper to the White House asking for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be transferred to CENTCOM's area of responsibility.
At present, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are under the European Command (EUCOM) area of responsibility. Petraeus's reasoning is that as the US troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are under CENTCOM's responsibility, it is only appropriate that this command should be seen by Arab leaders as linked to the biggest flashpoint in the region.
In any event, Petraeus did not demand that Israel be transferred to his command. CENTCOM, which is headquartered in Florida, commands US military interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Petraeus, 57, has been mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for the presidency in 2012, although he denies any plans to run. He is considered one of the most popular generals in the US Army, and was recently described in an Associated Press article as "ambitious, seasoned, articulate and competitive."
He sprang to public prominence when President George W. Bush gave him command of implementing the surge of US forces in Iraq in 2007.
Many expect that Petraeus's next position will be as commander of US Land Forces and he may even be destined to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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