When U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen met last month with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the media speculated that they talked about Iran. However, Foreign Policy magazine reported yesterday that Admiral Mullen was delivering an unprecedentedly tough message about how Israel's conflict with the Palestinians harms American military interests in the region.

According to an article by veteran Middle East expert Mark Perry, in January Mullen received a delegation of senior Central Command officers responsible for the Mideast. The presentation by the group "stunned" Mullen, Perry wrote.

Dispatched by CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus, the officers told Mullen that the Arab leaders they had met were becoming increasingly convinced the United States is unable to stand up to Israel, and that CENTCOM is losing credibility in the Arab world. Perry quotes a senior Pentagon official describing presidential Mideast envoy George Mitchell as being "too old, too slow and too late."

Petraeus also wrote to the White House, asking that the West Bank and Gaza be moved from their traditional assignation within European Command, to the authority of CENTCOM. He stressed the American military must be seen by the Arab world as actively involved in the most problematic conflict in the region.

Petraeus' request was rejected, Perry wrote, but the White House decided to ratchet up the pressure on Israel on the issue of settlement freeze. Mitchell was dispatched to several Arab capitals and asked Mullen to meet with Ashkenazi. The message conveyed was that Israel had to see the conflict in a wider context and understand its own influence on America's standing in the region, according to the Foreign Policy article.

Similar comments were made last week in Israel by visiting Vice President Joe Biden, who told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the crisis with the Palestinians was endangering the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perry concluded his article by stating that as strong as lobbying organizations (including the pro-Israel ones) are, the strongest one in Washington is the American military.