By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 16, 2007 - The United States has stood as a friend and partner of Israel since its independence in 1948, and that situation won't change, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here yesterday evening. In an age of Middle Eastern-sourced terrorism with global reach that is threatening Americans and Israelis alike, "it is even more important to maintain and bolster our partnership," Gates said at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs' annual Henry Jackson Award dinner.
Gates is this year's recipient of the institute's Jackson award, named after late U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson, a staunch Cold Warrior and stalwart supporter of America's friendship with Israel.
Iran is no friend of the United States or Israel, and its desire for nuclear capability and apparent ambition to dominate the region are causing "great anxiety and instability" across the Middle East, Gates pointed out.
Only "a united front of nations" can exert enough pressure to coerce Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, Gates said.
"Our allies must work together on robust, far-reaching and strongly enforced economic sanctions" against Iran, if it doesn't jettison its nuclear program, the defense secretary said. Diplomatic and political pressure must be employed to deter Iran, and all options are on the table, he added.
Yet, Iran isn't the only disruptive influence in the Middle East, Gates said. Non-state terrorists and illegal sectarian militias are causing death, misery, poverty and fear across the region, he noted.
"The future they promise is a joyless existence, personified not by piety or virtue, but by the executioner and the suicide bomber," Gates said of terrorists' world vision.
America and its allies have scored many tactical successes against the terrorists over the past few years, Gates pointed out. However, "overall success against violent extremism has been elusive," he acknowledged, given the jihadist movement's breadth and numbers.
Therefore, an American failure in Iraq would give the terrorists a huge ideological victory, Gates said, adding the jihadists use illusion to gain support. For example, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden says the jihadist movement all by itself caused the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan years ago, Gates said.
The truth, Gates said, is that weapons, men, money, strategy and other kinds of support the Afghans received from America and its allies turned the tide against the Soviets in Afghanistan. "Without those things, the insurgency may have ground on, but at an acceptable cost to the Soviet Union," Gates said.
Today, a sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would give the terrorists the opportunity to say they'd beaten the Soviets and the Americans, Gates said.
"It is not at all a stretch to imagine an all-out propaganda campaign in which the jihadists portray themselves as defeating not one, but two superpowers," Gates said, adding that such a scenario would embolden terrorists worldwide.
Challenges in Iraq "are steep," Gates acknowledged. But, he also believes "there are reasons to be hopeful." The secretary said he also is heartened by growing bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill for President Bush's Iraq strategy, which involves a conditions-based drawdown of U.S. forces as the Iraqis assume more responsibility for their security.
"I believe that members of both (political) parties are slowly coming to the same conclusions about our future course in Iraq, even if they disagree on dates and details," Gates said.
It has always been of benefit to America's values and national interest to seek peace with nations of the Middle East, Gates observed. He said four key objectives must be kept in mind to secure a lasting peace in the Middle East:
-- A unified, stable Iraq;
-- A just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, including a two-state solution as proposed by President Bush;
-- An Iran that does not attempt to dominate the region by subverting its neighbors, by building nuclear weapons, or by holding Israel hostage with the threat of attack; and
-- A reversal of the growth and influence of extremist networks and sectarian militia organizations that have cropped up across the Middle East.
Gates said he conferred with senior Israeli government leaders during his visit there in April. Israel, he said, is a mature democracy that, like the United States, has "no taste for war, no taste for the destruction and devastation that it creates."
Both the United States and Israel "are content to live in peace," the secretary emphasized.
However, America and Israel are prepared to fight to defend themselves against any threats, Gates maintained.
"But, if we are not left in peace, if our security is challenged, we also know that there may be times when we have to defend in no uncertain terms our interests and our liberties," the secretary said.
In addition, anyone in the Middle East or the Persian Gulf that would say the United States has become enfeebled by its engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq is wrong, Gates said.
"Restraint should never be confused with weakness," he said.