Ex-U.S. General Blasts Netanyahu’s Planned Congress Address

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton told Haaretz that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to Israeli PM is improper and perilous to both countries.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, second from left, reviews Iraqi troops at a training facility in Taji, Iraq, June 9, 2004.
Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, second from left, reviews Iraqi troops at a training facility in Taji, Iraq, June 9, 2004.Credit: AP
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

A high-ranking ex-U.S. army general warned this weekend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned Congress address in March could imperil both the United States and Israel.

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton told Haaretz that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not only improper, but perilous to both countries.

Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress in support of legislation designed to interfere with President Barack Obama’s negotiation strategy in the ongoing nuclear talks between the P5+1 world powers and Iran.

Eaton is a strong friend of Israel and a devoted supporter of Israel’s ties with the U.S. Army, the administration and its people.

One of his closest friends in Israel is Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Shamni, who was in his class at the National War College in Washington, D.C.

Eaton’s opposition to the attempted end run around Obama planned by Netanyahu and Boehner stems from what he sees as its inherent risk to the United States and its allies, including Israel.

Eaton is an eloquent critic of political programs that bring Americans back into harm’s way in the Middle East, after more than 6,800 Americans lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

The retired officer has become a voice of the campaigns’ veterans, who have also seen many more thousands of their comrades-in-arms struggling to recover from physical as well as mental wounds.

Some of these veterans are now active in organizations such as VoteVets.org. Twenty-five out of the 535 senators and representatives in the U.S. Congress are veterans of these deployments.

In coming out against legislation tabled by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) in the Senate and championed by Speaker Boehner in the House, with overt help by Netanyahu, Eaton has strong pro-Israel credentials.

He also has friends in the Israel Defense Forces, such as Shamni. “Soldiers value diplomacy,” he says, declaring his view of war as being the very last resort and giving diplomacy a chance without politically undercutting it.

“Both Iran and the United States have hard-liners that would frustrate a diplomatic solution, and it is folly for American hard-liners to give ammunition to those Iranians who would see these talks fail,” Eaton wrote Haaretz, in response to questions sent him last Thursday, after Obama and Kerry both announced they would not see Netanyahu when the prime minister visits Washington on March 3.

“Iran has had nuclear aspirations since the Shah, and many Iranian moderates support the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program,” said Eaton.

“This is a very tough negotiation, with significant mistrust on both sides. We need to do everything we can to prevent undermining our negotiators.”

Eaton fears the effect of the anti-Obama move. “The Menendez/Kirk bill was designed to impose sanctions automatically should talks fail. We all know that that option is always available. We don’t need to preemptively put a gun to Iran’s head in the form of automatic sanctions in the guise of a doomsday device.”

The retired general, who saw firsthand the futility of training the Iraqi Army to withstand the onslaught of more determined forces, warned, “With respect to possible violence, Iran is not without options – [including] violent acts by proxy forces with predictable targets and disruption of our counter-ISIS operations (where our interests align with those of Iran).”

As for Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, aimed at bolstering the hard-line, Republican-led stand and undercutting President Obama’s, as well as helping Netanyahu in what may be an uphill fight for reelection, Eaton replied, “It is highly inappropriate for the Speaker of the House to so publicly meddle in foreign affairs. It is a gross breach of protocol to invite a head of state without due coordination with the president.”

Asked what would happen if Netanyahu’s intervention in a domestic U.S. debate swings the vote, Obama’s veto is overridden, new sanctions are imposed, tensions rise and U.S. men and women are sent once again into harm’s way, and whether Israel will be blamed for this new military foray into the Middle East, he said, “Israel will never lose me or the American people as the most loyal of friends. Should military action become necessary, I fear for the safety of many of our allies in this dangerous region, including Israel AND the United States.

“Rest assured, airstrikes will only delay, and assure, the arrival of an Iranian nuclear weapon. The only military way to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions is a full-scale ground invasion and subsequent regime change. A mission that would make the Iraq and Afghan wars look like a cakewalk.”

In closing, Eaton wished to sound a positive note regarding the basic relations between the two countries, tensions between the leaders of the day notwithstanding.

“Nations act on interests, and security of the homeland is the vital, existential interest. Prime Minister Netanyahu should be viewed by the American president, regardless of party affiliation, as the duly elected leader of the Israeli people dedicated to the future of Israel. Disagreements on methods, of course, will occur between allies, but our alliance will endure,” he said.

Eaton has intimate knowledge of his subject matter. He is both the son and father of officers who graduated – as he did – from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His father, who became a U.S. Air Force pilot and colonel, was killed in the Vietnam War, but his remains were found only 35 years later.

His track record includes commanding troops and heading training centers, including the infantry school at Fort Benning. He was in charge of training the new, post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi Army, a job later held by generals David Petraeus and Martin Dempsey (the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Some of Dempsey’s public positions on the limited utility of military action – and especially one involving ground troops – seem to resemble Eaton’s. Similar doubts have been voiced by outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Eaton supported Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign for the Democratic nomination and later advised Obama, who was trying to make inroads in the retired military community.

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