WASHINGTON - "The absence of Middle East peace does affect US national security interests in the region," US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Thursday.
Gates expressed fears that hostile elements will exploit the stalled peace talks.
"Lack of progress toward Middle East peace is clearly an issue that is exploited by our adversaries in the region and is a source of certainly political challenge," he said. "Whether it has a direct impact, I'm not entirely sure. But there is no question that the absence of Middle East peace does affect US national security interests in the region."
Gates, together with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, said that the political tension would not affect the important relationship between the IDF and the US military. Mullen said he had spoken to the IDF's Chief of Staff Major-General Gabi Ashkenazi twice last week and that relations between the two armies continue to be extraordinarily strong.
Gates spoke in response to a question about last week's comment by head of the US Central Command General David Petraeus, who is responsible for US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Petraeus expressed his concern that lack of progress in talks between Israel and the Palestinians would affect the entire region.
Testimony to the way the Arab world is carefully following the crisis echoed in the words of King Abdallah of Jordan, who said Thursday morning that Israel is "playing with fire" in continuing to build in east Jerusalem, and "trying to change the identity of the Holy City."
He added that Israel's unilateral moves in Jerusalem are "illegal and illegitimate and will lead to further crises."
"East Jerusalem must be the capital of an independent Palestinian state, which must be established soon," he said during an interview with newspaper editors in Jordan. "We have repeatedly warned that Israel is playing with fire, and Jordan denounces all steps that threaten to change the identity of Jerusalem and empty the city of its Arab, Christian and Muslim residents.
US citizens, however, are not angry. Despite the crisis and the harsh words spoken by US President Barack Obama and Israeli ministers, according to a CNN poll Israel is still considered an important friend among Americans.
The poll, conducted in the days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, reveals that most Americans see Israel as an ally of the US.
Some 41% of respondents said they considered Israel to be a friendly state, but not an ally. Some 39% said Israel was an ally, and only 12% said they considered Israel unfriendly to the US, while 5% described Israel as an enemy state.