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Robert (Bob ) Gates was one of the most experienced and sophisticated figures in the U.S. administration. Through his skills and connections he became head of the CIA, won the confidence of presidents and members of their inner circles as far back as the Carter administration and was appointed the second secretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration. Gates was the only top Bush aide who was asked, and agreed, to remain in his post in the Obama administration as a Republican among Democrats. His worldview is acceptable to the centrist stream of the American establishment, and even in retirement his remarks find an attentive audience.

All this gives extra weight to his harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gates described Netanyahu as "ungrateful" and as one who does not bother to do his homework prior to important working meetings. It is rare for a figure of Gates' stature to express such views about the leader of a friendly country that has excellent military ties to Washington, despite and alongside chilly diplomatic relations.

Gates referred initially to the issue of the qualitative military edge of the Israel Defense Forces, in other words U.S. military exports to moderate Arab states. Israel is apprehensive about a potential confrontation with American weapons. The United States, on the other hand, sees these arms and the advice that goes along with them as powerful levers, and refuses to abandon the markets in the region to competitors such as Russia and France. Israel, which for years has depended on generous U.S. aid packages, comes off appearing indifferent to U.S. needs, including the need to create jobs.

But this is just one aspect of U.S.-Israel relations. Israel needs Washington's assistance in intelligence and operational matters, including surface-to-surface missile interception. It would be difficult for Israel to take military action against Iran without U.S. consent. In peacetime Israel will expect additional military and economic aid.

Netanyahu's conduct not only repays generosity with ingratitude but also erodes support for Israel in critical U.S. centers of powers. What Gates is saying, in effect, is that the United States could live with this in a pinch, but Netanyahu is dangerous for Israel. Ehud Barak, who presents himself as an old friend of Gates, cannot escape responsibility for his own partnership with Netanyahu.