Israeli news archives rife with headlines warning against incoming US defense
secretary, but top Israeli, American officials present a much more complex
picture; 'I found in him a fair friend, aware and sensitive to our security
issues; if I had to say, he was a critical friend, but a friend,' former
Ambassador to US Moshe Arad says. 'I didn't get the impression that he was
anti-Israel,' adds Zalman Shoval, another former ambassador to Washington
Yitzhak Benhorin Published: 12.02.06, 09:42
WASHINGTON - It has been said that he is against us, that a secretary of
defense is entering the Pentagon and he is not our friend. Robert Gates, the
man who President George Bush chose to replace Donald Rumsfeld, is starting to
register in our collective consciousness as a man who will make problems for
Israel in the next two years. Just like James Baker before him, he is already
seen as an Israel-hater, and go try and prove that he isn't.
Israeli news archives are rife with headlines warning against Robert Gates.
Everything is classified in black and white; there are no intermediate tones.
A Ynet poll that included conversations with Americans and Israelis shows that
the picture is much more complicated.
Robert Gates, 63, is the only man in the history of the CIA who climbed the
ranks all the way from an entry-level analyst to the director
of the Central Intelligence Agency. On his way to the top, he had a working
relationship with a few Israeli who know him up close, including David Arbel,
who served in senior positions in the Mossad.
Gates entrance into the arena was surprising and dramatic. Two days after the
blow suffered by the Republican Party in Congress, Bush revealed what he
himself admits was planned before the elections. Gates was presented to the
masses and was sworn in.
Gates was invited to the elite club of the Oval Office on the background of
growing public pressure to withdraw American forces from Iraq and the
anticipated recommendations of the Baker and Hamilton commission, the Iraq
Study Group. If you wish, he was brought in order to get Bush and the soldiers
out of the fire.
For us and against us
When Gates was deputy director of central intelligence, Arbel was the Mossad's
senior representative to North America. In a special interview with Ynet,
Arbel revealed that Gates "is a superb professional, which is shown in the
contacts we had with him. When the American interest coincided with the
Israeli interest, it was good. When it didn't, he stuck with his country and
his organization. He is a comfortable person to deal with and to the point."
For two years Arbel had professional contacts with senior intelligence
officers from various countries. He classifies Gates as a "man on a very high
In response to recent statements against Gates, Arbel responded: "It was
leaked that the Baker commission supports attempts to talk with Iran and Syria
and dealing a heavy hand to us on the issue of the Palestinians. This is where
statements that Gates is anti-Israel grew from. I wouldn't say that this is
because he is anti-Israel. If he estimates that this is good for the United
States, he will do it.
"This is how an American clerk behaves. He is for us and against us because he
assesses at that particular point in time what serves American interests. I
think that is what he is like," explained Arbel.
David Arbel recommends not cataloging Robert Gates as anti-Israel. One of the
events attributed to him is the attempt to drop the Iran-Contra affair on
Israel. To this Arbel responds: "This isn't true, as far as I know."
>From the realist school of thought
Moshe Arad served as Israel's ambassador to the United States between the
years 1987-1990. Robert Gates during that time was deputy assistant to the
president on national security affairs under Reagan, and later Bush the
"I worked with him for about two years and I found in him a fair friend, aware
and sensitive to our security issues. If I had to say, he was a critical
friend, but a friend. He lent his hear to the problems that bothered us at the
time," said Arad.
Arad served in Washington when President Reagan and his Secretary of State
George Schultz decided to open negotiations with the PLO and during the first
year of the Bush administration when work procedures with Israel were
In this context, former Ambassador Arad said, "We didn't always agree on
everything. When we needed to bring issues up for presidential decision, he
was always ready to help. We knew we could turn to him, and we knew we could
expect a positive and listening partner. I am hesitant about classifying him
as someone who isn't sensitive to Israel's security problems. He was
attentive, sensitive, and a friend."
As Robert Gates takes his place in the Pentagon, Arad wanted to remind
everyone that "the policy is set by the president. Gates is from the
international, conservative realist school and doesn't belong to the school of
thought that sees democratization of Middle Eastern regimes as an inclusive
"The man is much more pragmatic and realistic about the American capability to
change things unilaterally. On this matter the secretary of state will find
him to be an ally in attempts to reach a dialogue with the Europeans on the
issue of the Middle East and Iran," said Arad.
Zalman Shoval, the ambassador who arrived in Washington after Arad, thinks
Robert Gates wasn't problematic like others in Bush the father's
"In his role as deputy assistant to the president on national security, I
didn't have any confrontations with him like I had with others during that
time period. My contacts were mainly with Baker and others, but from the
contacts I had with Gates, I didn't get the impression that he was
anti-Israel," said Shoval to Ynet.
'Very steady, very practical'
Dov Zakheim, who served as undersecretary of defense and comptroller from 2001
to 2004 under Rumsfeld, became acquainted with Gates while serving in various
Department of Defense posts during the Reagan administration.
In an interview with Ynet Zakheim said, "Too many people are focusing on the
fact that he was with the first President Bush and therefore somehow he might
be against Israel. We have to remember that he spent eight years in senior
positions under President Reagan, who was considered a very good friend of
"This is a man who is not ideological in one way or another; I don't think it's
safe to say that he's against Israel," Zakheim added. "People shouldn't jump
During the 2000 U.S. Presidential election campaign, Zakheim served as a
foreign policy advisor to Bush as part of a group led by Condoleezza Rice that
called itself The Vulcans.
"Gates is very steady, very practical," Zakheim said. "His background as an
intelligence person means that he's not going to make all kinds of spark fly,
and right now in the Middle East you don't want sparks to fly."
Gates is reportedly responsible for the crisis that broke out between Israel
and the US surrounding the selling of Patriot missile technology to China;
however, it should also be noted that tensions between the two countries also
flared during Rumsfeld's term, this time as a result of Israel's independent
sale of drones to China.
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