Nearly a year ago, I wrote about General Keith Dayton's address to the annual Soref Symposium of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the pro-Israeli thinktank. In that address, I noted, Dayton -- who'd been assigned the job of helping to train and equip Palestinian military units in the West Bank -- worried out loud that despite the fact that the individuals selected for those units were vetted by Israeli and Jordanian intelligence, and despite the US involvement, it wasn't impossible that these units could become stirred by a Palestinian nationalist (i.e., strongly anti-Israel) outlook.
Dayton added, however, that the point of building these units was to "create a Palestinian state." But he added:
"With big expectations, come big risks. There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you're creating a state, when you're not."
As I wrote at the time:
"To my ears, at least, his subtle warning is that if concrete progress isn't made toward a Palestinian state, the very troops Dayton is assembling could rebel."
Which raises the question of the US military's role in the Middle East, in Palestine, and in America's Middle East policy. Recently, as noted below, key commanders in Centcom and at the US Joint Chiefs of Staff have reportedly been sounding the alarm that Israel's intransigence on peace talks is undermining the US position in the Middle East. And, top US military officers, including Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, are strongly opposed to the idea of an Israeli attack on Iran. What it means is that the fiercely pro-Israeli neoconservatives, who hug the military to their breasts when it comes to invading Iraq, are wary of the Pentagon's role more broadly in the Middle East, since the Pentagon -- and the military-industrial complex -- is fond of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arabs, and the regional machinery that supports America's huge presence in the area of Centcom's bailiwick.
Daniel Pipes, who makes most neocons look mild by comparison, has just issued another fatwa against America's support for what he calls "the Palestinian militia," i.e., General Dayton's responsibility, and he concludes: "The Dayton mission needs to be stopped before it does more harm."
Why does Dayton need "to be stopped"? Because, says Pipes:
"Looking ahead, I predict that those troops will more likely be a war partner than a peace partner for Israel."
Pipes says that the Palestinian armed forces, weak as they are, are prone to "start directing their firepower against Israel," cooperating with Hamas, or even being taken over by Hamas if the militant Islamists from that benighted organization take over the West Bank.
Pipes' blast at General Dayton is only the most recent neoconservative assault against the US military in the Middle East. In part, the neocons are suspicious -- as always -- of the so-called "realists" who, in turn, are skeptical of Israel's role of monkey wrench in the machinery of US-Arab relations.
Case in point: General Petraeus.
According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, Petraeus recently delivered a 45-minute briefing, with slides, that "stunned" Mullen and the brass. Writes Perry:
"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 Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) 'too old, too slow ... and too late.'"
"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. 'Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling,' a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. 'America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.'"
It isn't a shock, of course, that Israel's hardline policies are undermining America's relations with the Muslim world. For most hardline Israelis, including the Likudniks and people like Bibi Netanyahu, that's the point.
As Perry concludes, citing reports in the Israeli press, Vice President Biden's recent fiasco in Israel wasn't merely pique over a settlements blunder by Israeli hardliners. Perry used Yediot Aharanoth, a conservative Israeli daily, to add:
"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 went on to report: 'The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US 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."
Which is why the Washington Post and its pro-Israel editorialists are going to have to keep their pencils sharpened. In today's paper, the Post has an editorial entited, "The U.S. quarrel with Israel." It says:
"It has been startling -- and a little puzzling -- to see Mr. Obama deliberately plunge into another public brawl with the Jewish state."
With any luck, that brawl is just beginning.