NEW YORK — Israel is facing a “strategic threat” in the form of the international boycott, divestment and sanction campaign, a former CIA chief said on Monday.
David Petraeus said that Israel was currently experiencing “the best of times and the most worrisome of times” during an open conversation with British writer Emma Sky at the 92nd street Y on his experiences as commander of the American forces in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
Despite its financial robustness and while having effectively trounced Hezbollah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, all but eliminating suicide bombings within its borders through the construction of the Security Barrier, Israel is increasingly isolated in the West due to the persistence of the conflict with the Palestinians.
“You see growing worries about the possibility of a so-called ‘international intifadah’; the boycott, divestment and sanction moves. That may be coming back to a strategic issue that has to be resolved at some point … demographics are another challenge,” he said.
On April 23, Petraeus was sentenced by a North Carolina Federal court to two years probation and charged with a $100,000 fine for leaking classified documents to his biographer and lover Paula Broadwell. The former four-star general resigned from his position as head of the Central Intelligence Agency when the affair became public in November 2012; a subject he declined to address on Monday.
Petraeus praised the framework nuclear deal signed between the P5+1 and Iran on April 2 for potentially rolling back Iran’s military nuclear program; significant differences between the American and Iranian versions of the agreement notwithstanding. He warned, however, of the destructive roll an empowered Iran could play in the global arena once a final agreement is signed.
“The lifting of sanctions will mean that Iran will have vastly more resources. It will be reconnected with the global economy … it’s going to have a lot more resources to pursue mischief around the world and that concerns me,” he said.
The Islamic Republic has already proven its devastating ambitions in countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, he noted. The key figure currently running Iran’s regional involvement is the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani.
Petraeus recalled a conversation with former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani in 2008 in which the latter conveyed a direct message from Soleimani. The Iranian official stated that he wields full control over Iran’s foreign policy, asking the American general to engage with him directly.
“He was saying ‘don’t fool around with those Iranian diplomats, deal with me’,” Petraeus recalled, but stressed that he declined to do so.
In a scathing critique of the American involvement in Iraq post-2003, the former general outlined a number of major shortcomings. Firstly, the US invaded Iraq in March 2003 with “no nuanced knowledge” of the country’s political and societal structure. Petraeus had never met with a civilian expert with any knowledge of the country prior to the war.
Secondly, the US was quick to establish new governing structures rather than use existing ones. The delay in creating a new bureaucracy to govern Iraq after old state institutions were dismantled though a process known as de-Baathification left the country “in a state of disarray that persisted for quite a long time” and alienated its Sunni population.
“Using existing organizations whenever possible is an imperative,” he said.
“When contemplating a major endeavor … we really ought to ask … ‘will this operation or policy take more bad guys off the street by its conduct or implementation than it creates?’ If the answer is that it’s going to create more bad guys than it takes off the street, you probably ought to sit underneath a tree until that thought passes.”
“But if we could answer that question honestly,” he continued, “we wouldn’t have fired the Iraqi military without [them] knowing what their future was; we wouldn’t have done de-Ba’athification without an approved process for reconciliation. These policies created tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi men whose only incentive was to oppose the new Iraq rather to support it, at a time when we most wanted everybody to support this new endeavor. We of course ended up fighting a huge number of them over time.”
Nevertheless, Petraeus called for increased American engagement in the Middle East — rather than President Barack Obama’s policy of disengagement — which he insinuated only allowed Iran to further entrench itself in the region.
“We have to engage and lead regardless of how war-weary we are,” he said.