U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has appointed a NATO veteran to serve as America's military point man in the Middle East.
It will be the task of General James Jones, a Marine Corps general who retired last February and served until 2006 as the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, to monitor activities between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
A 40-year-veteran, Jones headed a panel tasked by the Congress last summer that studied the readiness of Iraq's police and military forces. He will be retaining his present position as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Energy.
Jones, whose official title will be Special Envoy for Middle East Security, will be the one to determine whether Israel and the Palestinian Authority are meeting their obligations in the first stage of the American Roadmap plan. He will report directly to Condoleezza Rice.
"I believe we need an experienced leader who can address the regional security challenges comprehensively and at the highest levels, and who can provide the full support of our government to the partners as they work to meet their responsibilities," said Rice.
"Israelis must be confident that a Palestinian state will increase their security and not detract from it. Palestinians must be capable of standing on their own and policing their territory. And countries in the region must be invested in the success of this state-building effort, for their own security depends on it too," she added.
The Ministry of Defense has not yet replied to a request for comments on the appointment.
Dr. Gadi Eshel of Professors for a Strong Israel, however, was unimpressed by Rice's remarks, saying that she has chosen to appoint someone to the post who is "at the very least cold towards Israel."
Eshel pointed out that Jones is involved in cutting business deals with the Gulf States, a major conflict of interest. "But what else can you expect from the State Department?" he said. "It verges on pure anti-Semitism, to appoint such a man to decide whether an act of terror has been committed with the blessing of the Palestinian Authority or not.
"The very fact that another country nominates an individual – and G-d forbid Israel would accept it – to judge whether an act of terror is sufficiently defined as a real act of terror or a negligible breach of the commitment of the PA [to end the violence] – that very fact is so mind-boggling that I cannot see any other definition," he added.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jones will also be monitoring the development of the PA security services as part of his role in supervising the PA's compliance with the Roadmap requirements. McCormack added that he will be working closely with Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator who has been training the PA security forces for more than a year.
Dayton faced harsh criticism by Congress members earlier this year after admitting that Fatah terrorists had obtained American arms. His reputation was also severely damaged when Hamas terrorists overran Gaza last June and routed the Fatah militia he had trained.
At the beginning of this month, 300 of Dayton's PA security troops made their debut in the "terrorist capital" of Samaria, Shechem. Dayton has been supervising their training at an American-funded base in Jericho, with new weapons purchased by the Bush administration.