Bushs choice to rebuild Iraq could spur hostility to Israel

WASHINGTON — The mission of rebuilding Iraq after the war has fallen to a general who has visited Israel and is being portrayed in the Arab world as biased in favor of the Jewish state.

The Bush administration has selected retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner to direct the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Post-War Iraq. He will coordinate the civil administration after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is ousted, and will aid the transition to new leadership.

A former assistant chief of staff in the Army, Garner, 64, traveled to Israel in 1998 with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Two years later he signed on to an October 2000 letter that praised Israeli restraint in the face of Palestinian violence and urged the United States not to let its role as a peace facilitator hamper its responsibilities as a friend to Israel.

The appointment of Garner has enraged some Arab leaders, who claim that putting a "pro-Israel" leader in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq will only feed accusations that the war is being fought for Israel's benefit.

"People in the Arab world are completely amazed by the Iraq policy, they don't get it, and the view that Israel is behind it all is one that is gaining strength," said Hussein Ibish, director of communications for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The concern over Garner's relationship with Israel highlights the politically sensitive nature of regime change in Iraq, a country that has threatened Israel for decades and launched 39 missiles at Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It also shows growing concern about the Bush administration's plans for the broader Middle East.

Ibish said Garner's appointment is a sign that the Bush administration either does not understand Arab public opinion or does not care.

"It's incredible that the administration would not be sensitive to what impression that would lend to other Arabs and Iraqis themselves about what sort of occupation this would be," he said.

But Jewish leaders are rejecting the charge that visiting or supporting Israel should disqualify Garner from any service in the Middle East.

"If I were Jay Garner, I would be enormously offended that for visiting Israel for 10 days, I was disqualified from serving the American government in some capacity in an Arab country," said Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects for JINSA. She noted the large number of former military leaders that visit Israel each year.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called Garner's support of Israel "irrelevant."

"Should this administration look for someone who is anti-Israel?" Hoenlein asked. "The fact that he supports a close ally of the United States is natural."