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Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Jury still out: Robert Gates pro-Israel or not?

Published: 12.02.06, 09:42

Jury still out: Robert Gates pro-Israel or not?

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

by Yitzhak Benhorin,7340,L-3334753,00.html

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

For two years Arbel had professional contacts with senior
intelligence officers from various countries. He classifies Gates
as a "man on a very high level."

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 father.

"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 established.

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 vision.

"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 administration.

"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 Israel.

"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 to conclusions."

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.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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