A former U.S. general said last week that the United States is paying a military and security price "every day" because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warning that the continued construction of settlements is liable to turn Israel into an apartheid state.
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Gen. (ret.) James Mattis, who until two months ago headed the Central Command of the U.S. Army (CENTCOM) and commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East, made the comments at an Aspen Institute conference last Saturday.
Speaking at a later session of the conference, Mattis said that he believed Israel would attack the nuclear facilities in Iran, possibly without even giving the U.S. prior warning. He added that Iran was one year away from having nuclear weapons, in his view, and that neither Israel nor the U.S. was capable of detroying Iran's nuclear program. At best, he said, the program would be delayed by six to 18 months.
Mattis retired from the U.S. military on May 22, after 41 years in uniform. As the head of CENTCOM, Mattis commanded the U.S. forces in 20 countries, from Egypt in the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east. Prior to that, he held a series of senior positions in the Marines: brigade commander in the first Gulf War; battalion commander in Afghanistan; and division commander during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Mattis was interviewed at the conference by CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer, and asked his opinion about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's statement regarding the renewal of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Mattis praised Kerry for his efforts but expressed doubt that the Israelis and Palestinians are as interested in making progress as the U.S. secretary of state is.
Gen. (ret.) Mattis then sounded a prophecy of doom regarding what is liable to happen if a Palestinian state is not established. "I would tell you that the current situation is unsustainable," he said, adding, "It’s got to be directly addressed. We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported. We’ve got to get there, and the chances for it are starting to ebb because of the settlements, and where they’re at. [They] are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option."
Mattis discussed the dangers to Israel's future and mentioned the settlements as an example. "If I’m in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote - apartheid," he warned. "That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country. So we’ve got to work on this with a sense of urgency."
The retired American general emphasized that a continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict harms America's security interests. "I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel," he said. "That influences 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. So [Kerry's] right on target with what he’s doing. I just hope the protagonists want peace and a two-state solution as much as he does."
Mattis' harsh words confirm the current perception within the military and defense establishment in the United States regarding the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Mattis' reprimand is reminiscent of an almost identical statement by his predecessor, Gen. David Petraeus, during a Senate hearing in 2010.
"The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct
challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the region," said Petraeus at that time. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [Area of Responsibility] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world."