Al Haig, who died Saturday, was a good friend to Israel - through thick and thin, both at the best of times and during difficult times. He never wavered in his friendship for Israel. A very cerebral man, Haig's support for Israel was not only based on the rationale that the United States and Israel had shared strategic interests; it was also tempered by an admiration for Israel's courage in the face of daunting odds.
I first got to know him well when I arrived in Washington as Israel's ambassador in February 1982, when he was president Ronald Reagan's secretary of state. My first order of business was to request a private talk with him, just the two of us. He immediately consented. A few days after my arrival in Washington, on a Saturday, I was secretly whisked into the State Department building through an underground entrance. For the next two hours he and I, with no one else present, discussed the problems facing Israel and the situation in the Middle East.
When I told him our prime minister, Menachem Begin, was concerned that after having made substantial concessions during the negotiations leading up to the peace agreement with Egypt, he might now be pressured by the White House to make additional concessions inimical to Israel's interests, Haig responded by saying "not on my watch." He showed understanding for the problems we faced at the time along the Lebanese border, with the Palestine Liberation Organization militias encamped there launching attacks against northern Israeli villages. When we parted, I knew that Israel had a good friend in Washington and that I had also established a personal friendship with Al Haig.
While there is no truth in the persistent rumor that Haig gave Ariel Sharon - Israel's defense minister at the time, who visited Washington and discussed Israel's problems in the north with Haig - the "green light" for an Israeli military operation in Lebanon, we did have his steadfast support throughout the operation until he left the office of secretary of state. When at one point I described the operation to him and told him "Al, we are winning," he responded "you guys always win."
When Haig was outmaneuvered by Reagan's White House staff, forced to resign, and replaced by George Shultz, there was concern that his replacement might not be as friendly to Israel. But it turned out there was no reason for such concern, since Shultz had as strong a feeling of friendship for Israel as Haig, and expressed his support for Israel throughout his long tenure as secretary of state.
Haig and I remained friends. A few days after Haig's resignation, Yitzhak Rabin, then an opposition member of the Knesset, visited Washington, and I invited both of them to a breakfast meeting at the ambassador's residence for a friendly talk. As Haig left I asked him what he was going to do now that he had left government service. "I have to keep the wolf away from the door," he replied. He had to go out and make a living.
He did quite well, serving on the boards of major corporations and exercising the stock options offered to him in that position, finally enjoying retirement in Florida. Throughout it all, he maintained his interest in Israel. This week we have lost a good friend.
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