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Gates in Israel

The Defense Department has posted a photo gallery of Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘s meetings this week in Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. Here (from left to right), Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Sandy Versbhow, Gates, U.S. Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl, and NSC ...

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582742_090801_gates32.jpg
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu hold a working lunch meeting in Jerusalem, Israel July 27, 2009. DOD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison(RELEASED)

The Defense Department has posted a photo gallery of Defense Secretary Robert Gates's meetings this week in Israel, Jordan, and Iraq.

Here (from left to right), Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Sandy Versbhow, Gates, U.S. Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl, and NSC Senior Director for North Africa and the Middle East Daniel Shapiro share a working lunch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisors. Netanyahu's national security advisor Uzi Arad is to his immediate right, military adjutant MG Meir Klifi, in uniform, is to his left, and advisor Ron Dermer is to his far left.

The Defense Department has posted a photo gallery of Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘s meetings this week in Israel, Jordan, and Iraq.

Here (from left to right), Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Sandy Versbhow, Gates, U.S. Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl, and NSC Senior Director for North Africa and the Middle East Daniel Shapiro share a working lunch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisors. Netanyahu’s national security advisor Uzi Arad is to his immediate right, military adjutant MG Meir Klifi, in uniform, is to his left, and advisor Ron Dermer is to his far left.

At a news conference with his counterpart Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the King David Hotel last Monday, Gates was asked about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s recent controversial remarks about a “defense umbrella” protecting regional allies from Iran.

“Well, there are a number of paths that we are following [in] an effort to try and get the Iranian government to reconsider what appears to be its intent to develop nuclear weapons, the economic sanctions that [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak spoke of are clearly one of those paths,” Gates said. “Another path on the diplomatic and security side is trying to persuade the Iranians that their own security interests are diminished by their policies, not enhanced.”

“They would be better off without a nuclear weapons program,” Gates continued, “partly because it would be destabilizing, partly because it might set off an arms race in the Middle East.” Gates said the United States has been looking to develop security relationships with its allies in the region, pointing to maritime surveillance, air defense, and missile defense capabilities that the U.S. had worked to enhance over the past two years.

Gates also voiced his support for U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell‘s Middle East peace efforts, which include pushing Israel to freeze settlements in the West Bank, urging the Palestinians to resume negotiations, and pressuring Arab governments to show Israel intermediate gestures towards normalization.

“As part of our steadfast support for Israel, the United States continues to provide a robust, annual military assistance package,” Gates said, noting that Washington contributes financial and technical assistance to Israel’s defense. “Of course, achieving long-term security for Israel is ultimately dependent on a sustainable, comprehensive Middle East peace. The goal is vitally important for regional stability. To help move the process forward, we will continue to address further Israeli security requirements to make a two state solution possible.”

It was Gates’s first trip to Israel in more than two years.

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.

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