Former US secretary of state Alexander Haig “always had a special feeling for Israel,” Haig’s spokesman during his 1988 campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Daniel Mariaschin, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.
Haig, a four-star general who was a top adviser to three US presidents and had presidential ambitions of his own, died on Saturday of complications from an infection, his family said. He was 85.
“I always had the impression that he considered himself a friend of Israel and understood its geo-security predicament as we moved through the years,” said Mariaschin, now executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.
Haig had close relationships with a number of well-known Israeli political and military figures including Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin, Mariaschin said.
In 1998, Haig testified in an affidavit as part of Sharon’s libel suit against Haaretz
and its columnist Uzi Benziman.
Benziman had written that in 1982, then-defense minister Sharon had deceived prime minister Menachem Begin, who had only approved a plan to send IDF troops 40 km. north of the Lebanese border.
Haig testified that Begin told him in October 1981 that the army had started plans for an incursion into Lebanon and that the troops would reach the approaches to Beirut, much more than 40 km. from Israel.
Haig once referred to Israel as “America’s largest aircraft carrier which never could be sunk.”
But according to historian Yehuda Avner, who served on the staffs of many prime ministers, Haig could also be annoyed by Israeli policies.
Avner wrote in a Post
column that following the surprise annexation of the Golan Heights (actually the extension of Israeli law and administration to the area) in 1981, Haig, serving as secretary of state under president Ronald Reagan, proposed temporarily suspending the strategic cooperation agreement between the countries, a suggestion Reagan accepted.
Later in his life, Haig evolved into a firm believer in Israel as a powerful deterrent to terrorism. In 2001, he told the Post
that it might not be a bad thing for Israel to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
“If the Israelis do launch a preemptive strike [on Iran], it may be saving the world a lot of trouble,” he said.
“He was truly a man apart,” said Mariaschin. “A great military leader and a major public servant. There are few people today who can say that they have served their country as soldiers and in civilian life. He was a prime example of an American who was able to do both in his career, and his death is a great loss.”