ZOA Repudiates Fmr. Defense Sec. Gates’ Criticism of Israel
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has repudiated criticism made of Israel by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in which Mr. Gates claimed that Israel was an ungrateful ally. In an interview with The Atlantic’s leftwing Jeffrey Goldberg, Gates claimed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had been “impudent” to publicly explain to President Barack Obama Israel’s security situation. Gates also claimed that, despite the many steps the US had taken to guarantee Israel’s security – assistance with weapons, defense systems and intelligence sharing, it had received nothing in return, “particularly in regards to the peace process.”
According to Goldberg:
“In a meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee held not long before his retirement this summer, Gates coldly laid out the many steps the administration has taken to guarantee Israel’s security -- access to top- quality weapons, assistance developing missile-defense systems, high-level intelligence sharing -- and then stated bluntly that the U.S. has received nothing in return, particularly with regard to the peace process. Senior administration officials told me that Gates argued to the president directly that Netanyahu is not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank. Gates has expressed his frustration with Netanyahu’s government before. Last year, when Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel was marred by an announcement of plans to build new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, Gates told several people that if he had been Biden, he would have returned to Washington immediately and told the prime minister to call Obama when he was serious about negotiations” (Jeffrey Goldberg, ‘Robert Gates Says Israel is an Ungrateful Ally,’ Bloomberg, September 5, 2011).
The ZOA believes Robert Gates’ criticism is unwarranted. It is absurd to complain about Prime Minister Netanyahu having “lectured” President Obama when, not only has President Obama repeatedly lectured Israel as to what would best serve Israel’s interests, but the Netanyahu “lecture” came just after President Obama had ambushed Mr. Netanyahu on the eve of his visit to Washington with a speech that laid out, without prior consultation with Israel, a proposal for sweeping Israeli concessions and new U.S. positions that had never been publicly stated by any previous president – scarcely the behavior of close ally.
President Obama not only called upon Israel to return to the indefensible pre-1967 lines “with agreed swaps” – basically, saying that Israel can keep nothing beyond these lines, not even Jerusalem’s Western Wall, without Palestinian consent. He also had called for a “full and phased Israeli withdrawal,” including from the Jordan Valley, a strategically vital land barrier whose possession by Israel makes it possible for the Jewish state to repulse an invasion from the East. All Israeli governments have regarded it as vital to Israel’s security. No previous president had publicly called for this. Nor had any previous president said that Israel should first set up a Palestinian state and only then discuss the vital issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that Prime Minister Netanyahu felt the need to state publicly and clearly why Israel could not accept these dangerous, new positions. Former Secretary Gates speaks as though Mr. Netanyahu did this in a vacuum.
Mr. Gates is also mistaken about the U.S.-Israeli relationship. It is not a one-way street of U.S. favors to Israel. The intelligence the U.S. receives from Israel exceeds that which the U.S. receives from all NATO countries combined. The U.S. has also benefitted greatly from Israeli innovation and technology in the military realm. In fact, Israel often makes sacrifices of its own for the security relationship between the two countries. U.S. aid has sometimes limited Israel’s defense exports and even sometimes undermines Israeli research and development. Israel never developed its own strike fighter in the 1990s – something that would have been a boon to Israeli research and a cost saving to the Israeli treasury. For Secretary Gates to say that Israel is ‘ungrateful’ for U.S. defense cooperation is not only untrue but a charge that could be leveled against him.
It is hard to know what Secretary Gates means about Israel having delivered little in terms of the so-called peace process. It is certainly clear, however, that the Obama Administration has more or less consistently ignored PA glorification of terrorism and incitement to violence against Israel, while being emphatic and repetitive attacking Jewish housing projects in eastern Jerusalem as an obstacle to peace. It has used the terms “condemn,” an “insult” and an “affront” when expressing disagreement with Israel on this issue. President Obama himself, in a January 2010 interview, and despite Israel’s acceptance in-principle of a Palestinian state, readiness to talk and institution of an unprecedented 10-month freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, said that Israel had made no “bold gestures.” This is hardly gratitude for Israeli concessions which the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to merit.
While former Secretary Gates’ criticism of Israel is ill-founded and unjustified, it is noteworthy of the attitude the Obama Administration takes towards its best Middle Eastern ally.