Ex-US general: We pay a price for backing Israel

Slamming settlements, James Mattis, former commander of CentCom, tells crowd in Aspen that moderate Arabs are forced to hide support for America

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Retired US Marine Corps General James Mattis recently said that America pays a price for its perceived bias in support of Israel.

“I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians,” he said Saturday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado in response to a question about the peace process

Mattis took over Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, from David Petraeus in 2010.

He called the current situation in Israel “unsustainable” and blamed the settlements for harming prospects for peace. The chances for an accord between Israel and the Palestinians, said Mattis, “are starting to ebb because the settlements and where they’re at are going to make it impossible to maintain the two state solution.”

Mattis then described a hypothetical in which 500 Jewish settlers live among 10,000 Arabs, and the implications of where Israel draws the border. He called it a choice between giving up the idea of a Jewish state or becoming an apartheid state.

He then returned to the idea of the cost of lack of progress in peace talks, arguing that it “shortstops a lot of support for us because all politics are local… And I would just tell you that they can’t come out in support of us if we don’t see some progress where Secretary [of State John] Kerry is wisely focused like a laser beam right now.”

Mattis was effusive throughout the conversation in his praise for Kerry and his current effort to kick-start the long-dormant peace process.

Mattis also touched on Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and his decades of service in the Marine Corps. He estimated that Iran is about a year off from a nuclear weapon and expressed pessimism regarding the potential efficacy of a military strike, but said he was certain Israel would not hesitate to attack if it felt Iran had crossed its red lines.

Mattis’s predecessor reportedly expressed similar sentiments in 2010. Petraeus reportedly dispatched a team of senior officers under his command to brief Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 45-minute powerpoint presentation shown to Mullen argued that Israeli intransigence was harming US interests in the region and harming American credibility among Arab leaders.

In a prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2010, Petraeus said that the “conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [area of responsibility] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Petraeus walked the statements back soon after.

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