Ross Talks Up Petraeus Linkage

From Josh Rogin’s excellent “Cable” blog at today:

Dennis Ross links Middle East peace to Iran
Posted By Josh Rogin Wednesday, May 5, 2010 – 6:16 PM

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.”

Ross was speaking at the closing dinner for the Anti-Defamation League annual conference, where attendees also heard from the NSC’s Daniel Shapiro, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin, special envoy for monitoring anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal, Israeli Amb. Michael Oren, and others.

Ross, whose exact portfolio at the NSC has been the subject of much speculation outside the administration, noted that “the greatest challenge for peace, for security in the Middle East, lies in Iran” and tied the Israeli-Arab conflict to the Islamic Republic.

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report (pdf) submitted to Congress back in March.

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” Petraeus wrote. “The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.”

Conservative hard-liners ripped Petraeus for the statement, linking the report to a story on Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel (some elements of which are in dispute). The National Review’s Andrew McCarthy even accused the general of “echoing the narrative peddled incessantly by leftists in the government he serves and by Islamists in the countries where he works.”

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

This is quite a remarkable statement and should no doubt create some consternation at AIPAC, among other right-wing Israel Lobby institutions.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Daniel may have been prescient in warning about the Burmese. It seems the key to Middle East peace keeps moving East.

    Perhaps we should look the other way, to avoid falling for a misdirection. Perhaps the key is too the West. Perhaps it is all with us, the US. I’ve long thought that the Israel/Palestinian was an American issue to resolve. Sadly, all the sufferin and dyin is happening over there.

  2. The fact that Ross said this certainly makes me take notice. But what of a practical nature will follow from his words? Do we see any signs that Israel is prepared to make the major concessions that could lead to a settlement with the Palestinians? I sure don’t. Nor do I see the U.S. putting real pressure on Israel. Just the other day we told the world that the U.S. security commitment to Israel is set in stone, now and forever. One might say that such a statement is necessary before pressure is put on Israel to do the things necessary for peace. But I say again, who with power in Israel is in favor of a truly just peace? And who in America has the capacity and the guts to really pressure the Israelis? I daresay Obama would like to, but he would get clobbered politically if he tried.

    I can’t help but wonder whether Ross is talking more for the record than anything else. He could be trying to establish himself as one who displayed a desire to solve the Palestinian issue — a voice of reason, as it were — in advance of a decision to take military measures against Iran. We do seem to be heading inevitably toward a showdown with that country. Engagement has proved a nonstarter so far. Sanctions will never be tough enough to truly bite. That leaves force. There is still time available, because the Iranian program is experiencing considerable teething troubles. But unless we get a breakthrough . . . .

    Nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong in the ongoing debate over whether the U.S. government is serious about changing the dynamic in U.S.-Israeli relations. Ross’ words, at least on their face, seem to indicate that this adminstration is serious. But I remain completely skeptical.

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