Monday, December 10, 2007

Difference of View on Iran and Israel

I found part of the Robert Gates question and answer session in Bahrain striking. (As reported by Reuters and other news services)

Asked at the Manama Dialogue conference whether he thought Israel's nuclear program posed a threat to the region, Gates replied: "No, I do not."

The statement was greeted by laughter from a room filled with government officials from Middle Eastern countries.

... ... ...

He dismissed the allegation that the United States applied a double standard on the nuclear issue by supporting Israel while calling for Iran to abandon its enrichment activities, which Tehran says are for peaceful purposes.

"Israel is not training terrorists to subvert its neighbors. It has not shipped weapons into a place like Iraq to kill thousands of innocent civilians covertly," Gates said.

"It has not threatened to destroy any of its neighbors. It is not trying to destabilize the government of Lebanon.

"So I think there are significant differences in terms of both the history and the behavior of the Iranian and Israeli governments. I understand there is a difference of view on that," he said.

"I understand there is a difference of view on that" means "though I've just stated my position, I do not expect you, my audience, to agree and the purpose of my reciting my position was not to convince you."

The purpose of that part of the discussion was not to convince the audience that Iran is more dangerous than Israel. The purpose was to get past an uncomfortable question without making it worse. "I understand there is a difference of view" is a concessionary request to the audience to help him avoid making it worse by vocally expressing a different view and/or asking any of the obvious follow-up questions.

The degree to which Israel is a burden on US efforts to get cooperation elsewhere in the Middle East may slowly be coming into view of the US policy community represented here by Gates.

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