Dennis Ross

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Dennis Ross (born 16 November 1948) is a veteran Israel lobbyist who has served in the Obama Administration as a Special assistant to the president and senior director of the Central Region at the National Security Council since June 2009. He formerly served as a Special Middle East Coordinator in the Clinton Administration, responsible for mediating the peace negotiations between the Israelis as Palestinians. According to Aaron David Miller, one of his subordinates, he and his team frequently served as 'Israel's lawyers.'[1] While serving at the Pentagon in the Carter administration, he also co-authored a study with Paul Wolfowitz which debuted the idea of Iraq as a military threat to the United States.[2]

Scuttling the Peace Process

According to multiple sources Ross acted as a staunch advocate for Israel during the Oslo peace process, at times sabotaging the negotiations.[3] Yet, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine at the end of his tenure with the Clinton Administration, he laid all the blame on Yasir Arafat. The interview also occasioned this frank admission:

'My Jewishness has added to my sense of mission,' he says. And he is an ardent supporter of Israel, where he has vacationed with his family. 'I don't believe you'll ever produce peace in the Middle East, he says, if Israel isn't strong and if there isn't a strong relationship between the United States and Israel.'[4]

Israel's Lawyer

On 10 November 1995, days after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, Ross visited the Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan to discuss the Middle East. According to Patrick Tyler:

he surprised Bandar by boldly stating that the Saudis should establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. The prince was taken aback. Here was the American Middle East envoy speaking as if he were [Israeli Prime Minister Shimon] Peres's campaign manager.[5]

Ross has himself admitted to the role that the Israelis expected him to play:

[Benjamin Netanyahu] wanted to negotiate with us and then have us sell it to--or more likely impose it on--the Palestinians, letting us do the dirty work and keeping a safe distance for himself.'

Tyler notes that 'while Ross recognized the trap into which Netanyahu had manoeuvered the American negotiating team, instead of rebelling, he accepted the role...'[6] Later at Camp David, according to Tyler, delicate negotiations between Clinton and Arafat also unravelled once Ross got involved.[7]

Israel First

In his review of Ross's book, Israeli historian Avi Shlaim writes:

Ross belongs fairly and squarely in the pro-Israel camp. His premises, position on the Middle East and policy preferences are identical to those of the Israel-first school. Indeed, it is difficult to think of an American official who is more quintessentially Israel-first in his outlook than Dennis Ross.[8]

Following Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington in early 2010, Ross was accused by one unnamed official of putting Israel's interests ahead of his own country's. Laura Rozen of Politico reports:

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this administration.” ... Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi's coalition's red lines.”...
When the U.S. and Israel are seen to publicly diverge on an issue such as East Jerusalem construction, the official characterized Ross's argument as: "the Arabs increase their demands ... therefore we must rush to close gaps ... no matter what the cost to our broader credibility...Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: Why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”[9]

Target Iran

Ross has been advocating a more aggressive posture against Iran for several years, a position which he has maintained inside the Obama administration, often putting him at odds with his own government's preferences.[10]




  • Myths, Illusions, and Peace—Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East - co-authored with David Makovsky, the former executive editor of Jerusalem Post, who took up Israeli citizenship before joining WINEP as a senior fellow. (Makovsky's brother Michael Makovsky served in Douglas Feith's notorious Office of Special Plans).



  1. Aaron David Miller, Israel's Lawyer, Washington Post, 23 May 2005
  2. James Mann, The Rise of the Vulcans (Penguin 2004), pp.77-82
  3. Patrick Tyler, A World of Trouble (Protbello 2009), Ch.10-11
  4. Clyde Haberman, Dennis Ross's Exit Interview, New York Times Magazine, 25 March 2001
  5. Tyler (2009): 436-437
  6. Tyler (2009): 480-481
  7. Tyler (2009): 505
  8. Avi Shlaim, The Lost Steps, The Nation, 12 August 2004
  9. Laura Rozen, Fierce debate on Israel underway inside Obama administration, Politico, 28 March 2010
  10. Barak Ravid, Why is Dennis Ross being ousted as Obama envoy to Iran?, Haaretz, 15 June 2009
  11. Leadership, United Against Nuclear Iran, accessed 3 February 2009