United States General David Petraeus, head of U.S.Central Command (CENTCOM) whose area of responsibility includes  Afghanistan and Iraq, set the record straight Wednesday regarding his statements about the Israeli-Arab conflict. In a talk given at St. Anselm College, Petraeus said that recent reports claiming he had blamed Israel for US military deaths were erroneous.

INN had reported on March 18th that the rumors that the general had blamed Israel were based on an article by Yasser Arafat's former advisor, Mark Perry, on Foreign Policy's website, and were not credible.  INN had surmised that this was a pro-Arab attempt to cause American citizens to resent Israel. INN staff also consulted the security think tank, JINSA, at the time, who confirmed that the rumors were baseless. INN's article refuted all three items attributed to Petraeus, also quoting Commentary's article on the subject..

Ynet and JPost, among others, reported the rumors as true and they dominated the web for days. One week later, on Thursday, March 25, the conservative website Spectator reported that "Petraeus poured cold water on the controversy, explaining in detail why 'all three items...were wrong'."

Petraeus had been quoted as attributing American military deaths to the perception of America as pro-Israel, based on statements allegedly included in a report given to the US Senate. The claim that he blamed support for Israel for American deaths was completely false, he said. “There is no mention of lives anywhere in [the report]... It doesn't say that at all,” he stated.

Petraeus told his audience that he had already contacted IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, whom he referred to as “Gabi,” to clarify the matter.

Taken out of context

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” Petraeus was quoted as saying. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the [Middle East] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.” Perry wrote that the general had sent a report to the White House on the issue. 

The quotes were taken out of context, Petraeus said. The statements were not remarks he made at a Senate hearing, as  implied, but rather, were taken from a 56-page report submitted to the Senate's Armed Services Committee. He never sent a report to the White House.

In addition, he said, the statements did not reflect America's view of the Israel-Arab conflict, but only addressed the perception of the conflict in the Arab world. “We noted in there that there was a perception at times that America sides with Israel and so forth. And that is a perception... I don't think that's disputable,” he said.

The report submitted to the senate also noted other influences on the region, such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's Holocaust denial, he noted.

According to a third rumor, Petraeus had asked that Judea, Samaria and Gaza be added to his terrain as leader of the Central Command, which covers most of the Middle East. That rumor was “flat wrong,” the general said.

Military commanders regularly examine the borders of each area of responsibility, he explained, but he never requested responsibility for Israel.