BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 23 (UPI) -- Much of the pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama to get tough with Israel over West Bank settlements is coming from America's top generals who have been warning for months that the United States is in danger until it brokers a Middle East peace treaty.
"There are important powerful lobbies in America … But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military," wrote Middle East analyst Mark Perry in Foreign Policy.
He sent his top staff members to Washington in January to deliver a report to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen that graphically emphasized Petraeus' conclusion that Israel's foot-dragging on the peace process was endangering the United States.
Petraeus' unequivocal message was that achieving Arab-Israeli peace was a supreme and strategic national interest of the United States.
The U.S. alliance with an intransigent Israel, his report said, was increasingly undermining America's standing and influence in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
It resulted in the growing perception that the United States couldn't stand up to Israel -- particularly when Israel openly challenges U.S. diplomatic efforts as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done in defying Obama administration insistence on halting settlement building.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, Petraeus stressed, was one of the main "root causes of instability" in Centcom's zone of responsibility and America must focus on bringing it to a peaceful conclusion at the earliest possible moment.
This concept isn't new by any means. But Petraeus, the general who turned around Iraq, has made it the central issue of relations between Israel and the United States.
Mullen, who has espoused similar concerns, took up the cudgel in no uncertain terms when he visited Israel in mid-February to bluntly reiterate Petraeus' message.
He told Netanyahu and his cohorts that Washington will not tolerate a unilateral pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. He has long maintained that hitting Iran would be a disaster, in all likelihood with catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and America, which would be held responsible for any Israeli onslaught.
Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, wrote in consortiumnews.com that Netanyahu "is supremely confident" that his connections in the U.S. Congress will give him the clout to defy Obama with impunity.
"These factors enhance the possibility Netanyahu will opt for the kind of provocation that would confront Obama with a Hobson's choice of either joining an Israeli attack on Iran or facing dire political consequences at home," McGovern wrote.
The national security argument was one of the primary factors behind the Obama administration's harsh response to Israel's announcement, during Vice President Joe Biden's visit in March to push the peace agenda, that it was building 1,600 new housing units for Jews in disputed East Jerusalem, traditionally the Arab sector of the holy city.
Petraeus told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on March 17: "The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance out interests in the AOR (Centcom's Area of Responsibility).
"The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.
"Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.
"Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas."
The general's blunt appraisal was largely ignored, by Democrats and Republicans alike, until Biden got an Israeli finger in the eye during his visit to Israel.
According to Israel's Yediot Ahronot daily, an outraged Biden exploded during a stormy meeting with Netanyahu: "This is starting to get dangerous for us.
"What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace."
Christopher Dickey wrote in Newsweek that the once-apathetic U.S. public is far more aware of Middle Eastern issues and dangers these days because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The decisive voices may belong to America's generals," Dickey wrote. "Are they ready to have Bibi Netanyahu's vision of war-without-end dictate endless wars for American troops? The answer, almost certainly, is no."