ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 25, 2011 — During a week of visits with leaders who all are affected by simultaneous antigovernment protests in Middle East countries, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates focused on opportunities that come with the challenges.
“We both face a region that is in turmoil,” Gates told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference before a breakfast meeting today in Caesarea, north of Tel Aviv. “That will present challenges, but it also potentially presents opportunities, and I look forward to talking with the prime minister about that this morning.”
Gates arrived in Israel the same day that rockets and mortars from Gaza blasted southern Israel and the same week that a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem killed and injured people in that city.
“I was in Moscow yesterday and received a very warm telephone call from President [Barack] Obama,” Netanyahu said, noting Obama was very supportive and sent his condolences for the victims of the recent terror attack in Jerusalem.
The Israeli prime minister added that Obama “said squarely and plainly, ‘We stand with Israel in this battle against terror.’ ”
Netanyahu said he has since received similar messages from leaders of Russia, Italy and other nations.
“I think this says that civilized countries have a common stake in fighting terrorism, and we want to make sure that’s clear to the terrorists,” the Israeli prime minister said.
“Civil society will not tolerate such wanton attacks on its civilians. Israel will not tolerate such wanton attacks on its civilians, and we stand ready to act with great force and great destruction to put a stop to it.
“I know the United States has been doing the same and would do the same,” he added.
“Let me simply add to what President Obama said, my own condolences to the families and victims of the terrorist attacks and during the rocket attacks in the south,” Gates said.
Netanyahu said he and Gates planned to discuss “so many areas in which Israel and the United States see eye-to-eye and in which we seek to establish security for the sake of the establishment of peace.”
The secretary noted that the longstanding partnership between the United States and Israel includes a defense and security relationship that has never been stronger, “and not just in affirmations, but in concrete ways of cooperation.”
After the meeting, Gates traveled to Palestine for a meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at his office in Ramallah, on the central West Bank.
“I understand that I’m the first American secretary of defense to visit Ramallah,” Gates said during a news conference, “and I look forward to our talks over the next few minutes … about political developments around the region, but also prospects for a two-state solution.”
“This is a time of great challenge and opportunity throughout the region,” Fayyad said, adding that he and his colleagues would review with Gates the progress the Palestinian Authority has made on its path to getting ready for statehood.
Before departing for Washington, Gates traveled to Amman, Jordan, for a private meeting with King Abdullah II. Gates also spent time this week meeting with officials in Russia and Egypt.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)