STUTTGART, Germany — Though the war in Afghanistan will likely be the primary issue when Gen. David Petraeus testifies Tuesday on Capitol Hill, another hot button issue could emerge: the general’s bid to add the West Bank and Gaza to U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Petraeus requested such a move amid concerns that insufficient engagement in the region is having a negative impact on how the U.S. is viewed in the broader Middle East, the international affairs Web site reported over the weekend.

"Petraeus’ reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict," Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel stated.

Currently, the West Bank and Gaza fall under the watch of the Stuttgart, Germany-based U.S. European Command.

On Monday, EUCOM declined to comment on Petraeus’ reported request, referring questions to the Pentagon.

However, David Lowe, an analyst from London’s Chatham House, says shifting the area of responsibility would do little to change perceptions in the region. And the underlying Israeli-Palestinian political challenges remain, regardless of which military combatant command is in charge, he said.

"The broader skepticism about the U.S. role would remain," Lowe said. "From the Arab side, more political pressure on Israel is needed and that is not going to be achieved via a military restructuring."

Petraeus’ request for absorbing Gaza and the West Bank came shortly after a lengthy Jan. 16 CENTCOM briefing to Joint Chief of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, the Foreign Policy article stated.

The 45-minute presentation from CENTCOM commanders asserted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is undermining U.S. strategic interests in the rest of the region and has resulted in a growing perception in the Muslim world that the U.S. is incapable of standing up to Israel, the article said.

Petraeus’ concerns come at a time of increased tension between Israel and Washington, sparked last week over the Jewish state’s announcement of construction plans in disputed east Jerusalem territory.

Despite those tensions, the U.S. military has a long running partnership with the Israeli Defense Force, including some 500 security cooperation exercises, according to EUCOM’s 2010 posture statement that was submitted to Congress last week.

Petraeus is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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