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A war with Iran would be "disastrous on a number of levels," according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

In an article appearing in the latest issue of Parameters, the U.S. Army War College quarterly, Gates wrote that with the army already bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, "another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need" - despite the fact that Iran "supports terrorism," is "a destabilizing force throughout the Middle East and Southwest Asia and, in my judgment, is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons."

Nevertheless, he continued, "the military option must be kept on the table, given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat, either directly or through nuclear proliferation."

Gates offered these remarks on Iran as commentary on how to apply an axiom uttered by General Fox Connor in the early 20th century: "Never fight unless you have to." But this is not the first time he has warned against war with Iran; he also did so in a speech at West Point, the U.S. military academy, three months ago. The current article is based on that speech.

Any statement by Gates bears special importance because Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential hopeful who generally opposes the current administration's foreign and defense policy, has praised Gates lavishly and even hinted that he might ask him to retain his post under an Obama presidency.

Meanwhile, in another document bearing his signature that is due to be published soon, the 2008 National Defense Strategy, Gates omits Israel from the list of the United States' main allies.

The National Defense Strategy is an official document that reflects the secretary's directives to the armed forces. It replaces the version issued in 2005 by Gates' predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. Although Gates signed off on the document about a month ago, it has yet to be published officially; however, a copy appears on the Inside Defense Web site.

In this document, too, Gates wrote that Iran's support for terror, efforts to undermine the nascent democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan and pursuit of nuclear weapons constitute a serious challenge to the security of the region ¬ one that U.S. policy must address.

However, he also used the document to discuss America's allies.

"Our closest allies - the U.K., Australia, and Canada. Other long standing alliances NATO, Japan and South Korea foremost among them. We will work to expand and strengthen other relationships, including with India," the document states.

But Israel, which has been listed in other documents as an important U.S. ally, does not appear in this document at all.

The possibility that Gates might retain his post should Obama win the presidency in November emerged from an interview that the Democratic candidate gave to Defense News earlier this month.

"Secretary Gates has brought a level of realism and professionalism and planning to the job that is worthy of praise," the publication quoted Obama as saying. "But whether that means he would continue in that position, or would even want to, I think that's something that will be determined later. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself."