Do U.S. Generals Have Pro-Arab Slant?

CentCom Officer's Remark About Israel Opens Can of Worms

Gen. James Mattis greets Egyptian military leader Hussein Tantawi in 2011. After Mattis suggested that America’s friendship with Israel is a problem in the Middle East, some are questioning if top brass
getty images
Gen. James Mattis greets Egyptian military leader Hussein Tantawi in 2011. After Mattis suggested that America’s friendship with Israel is a problem in the Middle East, some are questioning if top brass

By Nathan Guttman

Published August 05, 2013, issue of August 09, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The comment by the general who, until recently, ran America’s military command in the Middle East was startling in its bluntness.

“I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” James Mattis told an elite audience at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., on May 20.

The comments by Mattis, who took off his uniform for good only this past May, were part of a one-hour interview in which Mattis was equally blunt about the crucial importance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s current effort to move forward the long-stalled Middle East peace process.

“The current situation is unsustainable,” he said. And chances of achieving a two-state solution “are starting to ebb because of [Israel’s West Bank Jewish] settlements and where they’re at.” If current trends continue, Mattis warned, Israel “ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”

Mattis is not the first general to voice concern about the impact of Israeli policies and U.S. support for Israel on American security interests. One retired top Israeli general went so far as to describe some of these commanders as “brainwashed” as a result of their having served in Arab countries. They come to believe that “Israel is the reason for hatred toward America in the Arab world,” said the former commander, who would speak only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of Israei-U.S. military ties.

But several American defense experts argued that Mattis and several other generals who have voiced critical perspectives on Israel do not reflect any broad disaffection with the U.S.-Israel relationship among top American commanders.

“I don’t think this is a feeling among top brass,” retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni — himself a former CENTCOM commander — told the Forward in a July 26 interview.

Pro-Israel activists have, over many years, devoted the lion’s share of their efforts to the executive and legislative branches of America’s government. And those branches of government support Israel solidly on a bipartisan basis. But the country’s top military brass has always been harder to characterize.

On the one hand, military-to-military ties between the United States and Israel have long been extremely tight. Yet on the other, officers serving in the region have proved to be attentive to a worldview prevalent among Middle East leaders, one that points to Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians as a prime cause of instability in the region.

In 2010, one of Mattis’s predecessors in CENTCOM’s command, Gen. David Petraeus, shocked his Israeli friends when prepared testimony he was to give to the Senate leaked before he appeared. The prepared remarks, which were based on a study that his staff conducted of American security interests in the Middle East, stated: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the [region]…. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.