John R. Allen became a household name in Israel for several months in 2014, after the Obama administration tasked the retired U.S. four-star general with creating a security plan to accompany a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The big peace agreement never came, but Allen’s plan became the most detailed blueprint ever written for what security arrangements would look like if a Palestinian state were to be created alongside Israel.
Allen’s name was back in the headlines on Wednesday, but under very different circumstances: Leading U.S. news outlets reported that the former Marine general is under investigation for secretly lobbying on behalf of the government of Qatar.
The New York Times reported that Allen, the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is also being investigated for trying to withhold evidence related to the investigation.
Court documents quoted by the Times also show that Allen had business ties with an Israeli security firm that was previously led by Israel’s current defense minister, Benny Gantz. According to the Times, Fifth Dimension had agreed to pay Allen $10,000 a month and a 1.5 percent commission on any new business deals he generated. Gantz was the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff when Allen was working on his Israeli-Palestinian security plan under the Obama administration.
According to the report, Allen tried to take credit for persuading Qatar to sign a contract worth $72 million with the Israeli security company, which developed intelligence-gathering technologies. It closed in 2018 after one of its key backers, Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, was placed under U.S. sanctions. The company also included among its senior ranks Israeli lawmaker Ram Ben Barak, who is also chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and was previously a senior Mossad officer.
Since 2017, Allen has been president of the Brookings Institution – a prominent Washington-based think tank that had close ties to Qatar for years and had previously accepted a major donation from the wealthy Gulf state.
The investigation, based on the information that has been made public so far, is focused on Allen’s business activities prior to joining Brookings. A spokesperson for the retired general told the Times that “John Allen voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation into this matter. John Allen’s efforts with regard to Qatar in 2017 were to protect the interests of the United States and the military personnel stationed in Qatar. John Allen received no fee for his efforts.”
Allen’s alleged lobbying for Qatar took place at a time when the small but rich kingdom was placed under a blockade by its Arab neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as part of a power struggle between the Gulf monarchies.
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In an effort to get the U.S. government to end the blockade, Qatar launched an intensive lobbying campaign in the United States, including among right-wing segments of the American-Jewish community. This included invitations to key Jewish leaders to visit the kingdom, and unprecedented meetings between senior Qatari officials and the heads of different Jewish organizations. It is not yet clear if the investigation related to Allen is tied to that effort.
The Times reported that “the court records are the latest evidence of a broad investigation by the Justice Department and F.B.I. into the influence that wealthy Arab nations like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wield in Washington.”
Allen’s work on the security plan for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement won praise from leading Israeli defense officials at the time. Senior IDF officers, who took part in conversations on the plan, told Haaretz in 2017 that it should be viewed as a joint U.S.-Israeli document, a result of close cooperation between the Pentagon and the IDF.
Dozens of Israeli officers took part in the negotiations, working in a number of different teams. According to multiple Israeli sources, the conversations over the plan were “very substantial” and took place in an atmosphere of “openness and transparency.”