Sanchez and Former Arafat Adviser: Israel's a Danger to US Troops

March 17th, 2010 2:06 PM

Rick Sanchez Tuesday invited on a former adviser to deceased Palestinian terrorist Yasser Arafat in order to tell viewers how Israel has become a threat to American troops.

The CNNer devoted a good amount of his two-hour "Rick's List" to teeing up a number of guests and fellow so-called journalists to voice their anti-Israel sentiments.

"Mark Perry is saying that some of the top Pentagon generals now believe the United States troops in the battlefields in Afghanistan and in Iraq are being endangered by the lack of progress toward Middle East peace, and, in particular, by actions undertaken by the Netanyahu government," said Sanchez.

What followed took place moments before CNN broadcast anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Twitter comments (video embedded below the fold with transcript and commentary, h/t Story Balloon):

RICK SANCHEZ, HOST: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Rick Sanchez.

And I want to start right now by taking you right back to the very top of our international list. I want to tell you about this because it's important for all of us.

I told you I would talk to the author of this explosive report on U.S./Israeli relations. There he is. He's standing by for us right now in Washington. His name is Mark Perry, solid reporter from everything that we have checked on him, also a former adviser to the late Yasser Arafat.

Let me tell you what he's saying, though, before we start with him, because he's written extensively about what's going on.

Mark Perry is saying that some of the top Pentagon generals now believe the United States troops in the battlefields in Afghanistan and in Iraq are being endangered by the lack of progress toward Middle East peace, and, in particular, by actions undertaken by the Netanyahu government.

This predates the flap over the new Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem announced during the visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

Now, I'm -- I'm going to read to you from Mark Perry's article that's posted on the Web site of the respected publication "Foreign Policy." I want you to take a look at what we have prepared for you here.

"On January 16, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander, General David Petraeus, to underline" -- here's the news, folks -- "his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the Middle East conflict. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen."

Again, this is a briefing for military officials. Let me read on.

"The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises. The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue.

"The Mullen briefing and Petraeus' request hit the White House like a bombshell. The Obama administration decided it would redouble its efforts," which may be why the vice president went to the Middle East."

"Pressing Israel once again," as I read on, "on the settlements issue, certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message. Israel didn't. While commentators and pundits might reflect that Joe Biden's trip to Israel has forever shifted America's relationship with its erstwhile ally in the region, the real break came in January, when David Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America's relationship with Israel is important," but then he writes this: "not as important as the lives of America's soldiers. Maybe Israel gets the message now."

That's stunning. Mark Perry is the author of that piece. He's also the author of a book "Talking to Terrorists." And let me remind you once again, he once was an adviser to the late Yasser Arafat.

Obviously, some people would wonder if you're partisan, based on the fact that you knew Arafat and worked for him. But what you're saying is not your opinion. As I understand it, you're reporting an event that took place between U.S. military officials, and they're concerned that the actions of the Netanyahu government with the U.S. government would hurt our guys, hurt our soldiers, right? MARK PERRY, CONTRIBUTOR, "FOREIGN POLICY": That's right. But I don't expect -- Rick, I don't expect people to take my word for it just because I say it. I'm only reporting it.

Let's take a look at what General Petraeus said this morning in an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee...


PERRY: ... in his prepared remarks this morning, is...

SANCHEZ: I have that right here, by the way.

PERRY: And his first action item was to relate the war on terror and our military posture and our standing with other Arab countries directly to progress on the Israeli/Palestinian peace. And I don't think it could be clearer. He's worried. If there's no progress on the Israeli/Palestinian issue, we're not going to have much progress on the war on terror.

I was gratified to see the story. I think it confirmed my report.

SANCHEZ: This is interesting, because I will tell you what's maybe ironic about this situation.

The Israelis, obviously, have wanted us to go into the Middle East and follow the Wolfowitz plan of increasing democracy in the Middle East and making those countries work better with Israel, for example. But now that our soldiers are there in the Middle East and have been for the last eight years or so, Israel actually needs to be a little more careful about what it does, so it doesn't endanger their lives.

So, the irony is, before U.S. soldiers were there, it seemed Israel could get away with more than what they're getting away with now. Those seem to be the words, or, if not the words, the sentiments, being expressed by some of our high-ranking military officials in the United States.

PERRY: Yes, that's exactly right.

And you cite the right person. We have to remember that Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said explicitly that the road to Jerusalem -- that is, peace between Israelis and Palestinians -- would run through Baghdad, that we would take down Saddam Hussein, and everyone in the region would stand back and say, we better hew to the course that the Americans have set out here.

I think the military is taking an opposite point of view. The road to peace in the Middle East runs through Jerusalem. We have to solve this problem -- this problem, and we have to push Israel hard if our credibility is going to be enhanced in the region. That was the message from General Petraeus today. That was the message of the briefing. It's very important.

SANCHEZ: But, you know, many on the right will say that this president is too weak when it comes to the Middle East, that he needs to embrace Israel fully, perhaps more like his predecessor, George W. Bush, did, and that Benjamin Netanyahu will take advantage of him if he continues going in the direction that he's going.

What would you say to those folks who are saying that?

PERRY: We can't afford to appear to be weak. We can't have our credibility questioned.

I mean, I'm a historian. I look at the American relationship we had with Great Britain in World War II. We worked very well together. We consulted closely together. But we were in charge of that relationship. We had the most money on the table. We had the most troops on the field.

SANCHEZ: So, let me stop you. You're saying that this relationship between the United States and Israel is in many ways, and you opine, being directed or controlled by the Israelis, and not the United States?

PERRY: There's no question that we're an ally of Israel. The question here is, how close an ally of ours are they? Will they accede to our wishes when we say, you have got to move on this; you can't announce 1,600 new housing units and expect us to win the war on terror; this is in our interests, too, and our interests take precedence?

SANCHEZ: This is interesting. I mean, Netanyahu has really kind of put himself in a bit of a pickle here.


SANCHEZ: Let's move away from that. And I want to ask you about something else, because there was something you wrote that General Petraeus was asked about today. And I want to ask you about it.

You write in your piece -- let me check it -- that "Petraeus asked the White House to extend his area of responsibility" -- that would be CENTCOM, right?


SANCHEZ: "... to cover Israel and the Palestinian territories."

I guess he's basically saying, look, if you're going to have me leading troops in that area and fighting a war, then give me control of the area in that same area.

Here's -- here's what he said today when he was asked about whether he really wanted what you wrote about.

Take it, Rog.


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: In fact, although some staff members have, at various times -- and I have discussed -- in asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to, we have never -- I have never made that a formal recommendation for the unified command plan.

And that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this, which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.


SANCHEZ: So, he's saying you got that wrong. Did you?

PERRY: Yes. And I admitted it on the "Foreign Policy" piece. I received a phone call from the Pentagon.

The formal request -- General Petraeus is right -- the formal request did not go to the White House. It went to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that formal request. And it didn't include Israel. It included the Palestinian territories, that that be included in his area of responsibility.

So, with that minor, but I think confirmatory, recommendation of my own piece, yes, he's right. But it's important. This -- this would include the West Bank and Gaza in his area of operations.

SANCHEZ: Well, it wouldn't be a bad argument to say that the general in charge of the theater where U.S. men and women are now fighting should also be involved of a side area that could possibly conflagrate that fighting, right?

PERRY: I think that's exactly right. And it would be a signal to our Arab allies. I mean, Israel isn't our only ally in the region. It would be a clear signal to our Arab allies that we're willing to insert ourselves, the U.S. military is willing to insert ourselves in this -- in the resolution of this conflict, and that it's important, not just for the State Department, but for the Pentagon.

SANCHEZ: And who controls -- if not CENTCOM now, who controls that region? Would that be the European...

PERRY: European Command, exactly right.

SANCHEZ: European -- European Command, right.

PERRY: That's right.

SANCHEZ: Boy, I will tell you, delight to talk to you, sir. Thanks so much for sharing some of this insight into this situation with us. Certainly, we will have you back.

Mr. Mark Perry...

PERRY: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: ... appreciate your time.

Once again, readers are reminded that this happened moments before Sanchez's discussion with Wolf Blitzer during which anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments were broadcast via Sanchez's Twitter feed.

Is there a connection?

After all, it's not necessarily surprising to see a mainstream media member blame problems in the Middle East on Israel or its government, especially when the reigning prime minister is a conservative not favored by the American Left.

But to bring on a former adviser to Arafat to make the case that recent actions by Benjamin Netanyahu are putting our soldiers in nearby theaters at risk seems particularly offensive.

This is particularly the case given that in the three segments Sanchez did about Israel during his two hour program, not one person was brought on to offer an opposing view.

In the previous hour of the "List," a Palestinian-Jordanian journalist now residing in America was brought on to give his opinion:

RAMI KHOURI, JOURNALIST: You know, this American-Israeli situation is a crisis that's been in the making for several decades. At some point the United States has to decide whether it has an independent policy in the Middle East that reflects American national interests, or the U.S. simply as it has simply for the last 30 years or so more or less reflects what the Israelis believe or the right wing in Israel believes is in the best interests of Israel and is implemented mainly through very powerful and effective pro-Israeli lobby groups in Washington.  

Next up was controversial Harvard professor Stephen Walt who co-wrote what many believed to be an anti-Israel article/book in 2006 called "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy":

STEPHEN WALT, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: What President Obama is doing, or trying to do, is very much in Israel's interests. He's trying to push a two-state solution that will prevent Israel from ultimately becoming an apartheid state.

And the groups in the United States and Israel that are now attacking the administration don't have a long-term plan. It seems to me the only way you avoid the apartheid outcome is to get a two-state solution. And having Israel continue to build settlements is contrary to that particular goal.

CNN correspondent Jim Clancy agreed:

CLANCY: All right. Now, you look at that, what he had to say, and he's really being very clear about it. That is, this isn't even in Israel's interest here.

The U.S. is going to be tested. Will it stand up or not? We are going to find out. We are going to find out next week when Hillary Clinton goes to AIPAC. Now, that's -- AIPAC is the Israeli lobby. But, really, it represents the hard right wing that is standing in the way of any progress in these proximity talks.

In the following hour, as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments were rolling by on the screen, CNN's Wolf Blitzer also supported Perry's views:

BLITZER: Well, I read the article by Mark Perry that was on the "Foreign Policy" blog. And, you know, he's got information that not necessarily Petraeus himself, but some of his officers came and presented a briefing to Admiral Mullen and others at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the peace process, if there were a peace process, between the Israelis and the Palestinians and if that conflict were resolved, it would ease a lot of the pressure on U.S. interests in that part of the world. And, conversely, as long as that conflict continues, it undermines some of the U.S. interests in that part of the world. 

Add it all up, and in the course of two hours across three segments, Sanchez sought similar opinions from three so-called experts and two CNNers while not bringing on one person tht disagreed with the view that what Netanyahu is currently doing is not only bad for Israel but also threatening American soldiers.

That's some fine journalism, wouldn't you say?