Gates Reaffirms 'Unshakable' U.S. Support for Israel
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL, Mar. 24, 2011 Defense issues in the U.S.-Israel relationship and the implications of dramatic Middle East political shifts were among topics considered here as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, center, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, right, and their staff members render honors during the playing of the national anthem during an arrival ceremony in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 24, 2011. DOD photo by Cherie Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Our bilateral relationship and this dialog is so critical,” Gates said during a joint press conference after the meeting, “because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world -- violent extremism, proliferation of nuclear technologies, and dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states.”
Gates and Barak also discussed new unrest in Syria, a Jerusalem terrorist bombing and rocket attacks in southern Israel, Iran’s nuclear program, the security environment on Israel’s borders, and military operations over Libya.
It is especially important at a time of such dramatic change in the region, the secretary added, “to reaffirm once more America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.”
Gates joined President Barack Obama in condemning yesterday’s bomb attack in Jerusalem and rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza as recently as today.
“The thoughts and condolences of the American government and the American people are with the victims and their families,” the secretary said.
“Israel, like all nations,” he added, “has the right to self defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.”
In addition to his meeting with Barak, Gates also met today with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Tomorrow the secretary will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the U.S.-Israel defense relationship and the prospects for a two-state solution, and then with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The two-state solution refers to the creation of two separate states in the Western portion of Palestine. Israel would stay a Jewish state and another Arab state would be created to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“I know there may be a temptation during this time of great uncertainty in the region to be more cautious about pursuing the peace process,” Gates said.
But in his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Gates carried a different message, he said.
“There is a need and an opportunity for bold action to move toward a two-state solution,” the secretary said. “As the parties move forward, the United States stands ready to support them in any way we can.”
Asked about the latest upheaval between protesters and the Syrian government, Gates said that nation faces the same challenge as others in the region.
The secretary described the underlying problem as “the unmet political and economic grievances of their people.”
In countries like Libya, Syria and Iran, he explained, “authoritarian regimes have suppressed their people and been willing to use violence against them.”
What we see, Gates added, “is an opening to the future that’s occurring in virtually all of these countries.”
Some countries deal with the turmoil better than others, he said.
“I’ve just come from Egypt,” Gates said, “where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate, and, in fact, empowered a revolution. The Syrians might take a lesson from that.”
About Syria, where news reports indicate that several protesters have been killed and many more hurt, Barak said, “We prefer the Egyptian model of behavior rather than the Libyan one to be adopted by our neighbors.”
Gates, who arrived in Israel from meetings in Cairo with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, said Egyptian leaders have a strong commitment to their peace treaty with Israel and to continuing regular, high-level talks between Israeli and Egyptian leaders.
Gates said he came away from discussions in Egypt persuaded that those he met with “take the relationship with Israel seriously.”
Thirty-seven years ago, Barak said, he and Tantawi were battalion commanders in the same sector for opposing armies.
“When we crossed the Suez Canal,” Barak said, “he was protecting the eastern bank with his infantry battalion, and I came with my tank battalion.”
When Barak spoke with Tantawi after the field marshal took office, “I told him we have an utmost responsibility to make sure that our younger generation will not find themselves in the same experience.”
Barak said he couldn’t quote Tantawi, “but I have reason to believe that as long as the Egyptian armed forces are in power, they are a major pillar of stability within Egypt and the peace agreement as well as other international commitments will be respected.”
Gates said the United States and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and training exercises such as Juniper Stallion.
Such cooperation and support, he said, “ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.”