Gates: U.S. Committed to Relationship With Israel

The United States is committed to continue helping Israel "maintain its qualitative military edge" over other countries in the region that threaten its security, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates is on the fourth day of his Middle East visit, arrived in Israel yesterday after meetings with defense and national leaders in Jordan and Egypt earlier this week.

Gates met this morning with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the prime minister's Jerusalem office.

The secretary noted that in his previous career as director of national intelligence he had built "very good friendships and professional relationships with both the leadership of the Israeli military and its intelligence services."

"I look forward to continuing those relationships," he added.

Later in the day, Gates told reporters traveling with him that his discussions with Israeli leaders included talks on military-to-military relations, as well as Syria and Iran, countries that pose a clear threat to Israel's security, American Forces Press Service reported.

During the meeting, Olmert said he was "very, very proud and grateful" that Gates visited, nearly eight years after the last U.S. defense secretary, William Cohen, visited Israel.

"(The visit) gives us an opportunity to speak to the most powerful man in the defense establishment of the United States of America, which is extremely important to us," Olmert said.

The prime minister noted that Gates had visited Israel in his previous position and now has an opportunity to get to know the country better. "This is a unique perspective, which I am sure will allow you to look at Israel in (an) additional dimension," he said.

After the meeting, Gates visited Jerusalem's Yad Vashem, a 45-acre campus dedicated to holocaust remembrance and education. In what he called "a moving experience," he laid a wreath atop a concrete slab covering ashes of holocaust victims inside the Hall of Remembrance, a cavernous rough-hewn wood and concrete structure atop the Mount of Remembrance.

The secretary then walked through the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem. This solemn memorial consists of darkened narrow hallways covered in mirrors. Tiny points of candlelight reflected over and over represent the 1.5 million children killed during the holocaust. As Gates made his way through the memorial, a lone voice recited names, ages and countries of Jewish children slaughtered during World War II.

After exiting the memorial back into the sunlight, Gates said he had come "to pay my respects to those who were killed by the Nazis."

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