Text size

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Military's Central Command, telephoned Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi Wednesday to deny the reports he had blamed Israeli policy for the failure to reach a regional solution and for endangering the lives of U.S. soldiers in the Middle East.

This was not the first conversation between the two generals. The two had met at Petraeus' initiative not long ago, but in Israel they were surprised that the commander of CENTCOM broke the news of the conversation yesterday before a lecture in New Hampshire, as here efforts were made to adhere to an American request to keep exchanges under wraps.

Earlier this month, Petraeus warned the Pentagon that "America's relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America's soldiers," in a posting on the Foreign Policy Web site.

In a 56-page report, the Central Command had written: "The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests."

Petraeus told reporters yesterday that the report, which he claimed had been taken out of context, had been drafted because "...there was a perception at times that America sides with Israel and so forth. And I mean, that is a perception. It is there. I don't think that's disputable.

"But I think people inferred from what that said and then repeated it a couple of times and bloggers picked it up and spun it," he added. "And I think that has been unhelpful, frankly."

Petraeus was referring to blogging activity surrounding his comments on Israel, and apparently it was important for the general not to be seen as hostile to Israel, for Israeli consumption but also for the American public.

The two decisions Petraeus made, to call Ashkenazi and publicize the conversation, are important. CENTCOM is responsible for all the Arab states east of Egypt, and tends to shy away from making public its contacts with the IDF. Petraeus told the press that he did not seek to bring the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into the realm of CENTCOM responsibility, as they, along with Israel, fall under the responsibility of the European Command.

General Petraeus is not only commander of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, but would also be responsible for Iran, if tU.S. forces choose to focus on it.

Petraeus has also become a national hero in the U.S. because of his success in turning a clear defeat in Iraq into a victory, which means a disengagement without humiliation. As such, there is talk of him as a candidate for the presidency. If he does run, he will most probably run as a Republican.

U.S. law requires generals and admirals to stay out of politics for a decade after they retire only if they seek the post of secretary of defense. As for the presidency, they can run before their uniforms have been put in the closet, as Dwight Eisenhower did in 1952. P

etraeus was born in November 1952, and Ashkenazi in February 1954, and both of them can toy with the thought that they meet in the White House as president and prime minister respectively.

The original idea was created in the early 1990s when then chief of staff Ehud Barak met the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell. Barak was elected but Powell, although popular/held back. The Ashkenazi-Petraeus axis, which opened yesterday publicly, could bcome a transition from the military to politics.