Like all foreign conflicts, Lebanon's tragedy has tended to dull the senses with repetition-- until death comes to a friend, as it did last week. Few of The Post's readers had ever heard of Robert C. Ames until the story identifying him as a senior CIA analyst killed in Monday's bombing of our Beirut embassy. The nature of his craft meant avoiding the headlines. But Bob and his work were well known throughout the government and foreign policy community in Washington.

At 49, Bob Ames was already one of the old Middle East hands about town. But he was special. I first knew him during the Carter administration, when we were struggling to get the hostages out of Iran and to implement the Camp David Accords for the West Bank and Gaza. He was then one of a small group of national intelligence officers responsible for prying the best imformation out of U.S. agencies and getting it quickly to people who had to make decisions. But Bob didn't stop there. Tradition has it that CIA officers aren't supposed to immerse themselves in policy, but he became a brilliant exception, never lacking in ideas when most of us had run dry.

Everybody relied on his wisdom. When Robert Strauss, the president's negotiator, needed one person to serve as his eyes and ears on the Middle East, we sent him Bob Ames--and Strauss never had to look any further. When we were preparing the president's speech outlining the Carter Doctrine for the Persian Gulf, much of the best thinking was Bob Ames'. And after the change in administrations, he earned the trust of the new team as well, playing a key role at the president's elbow in fashioning the Reagan plan for the West Bank and Gaza.

Much is written about the supposed biases of career officials working on Middle East issues, but that didn't apply to Bob Ames. He wasn't "pro" or "anti" anybody in the Middle East; he was at home with both Israelis and Arabs; and he earned their respect as a partisan of the American interest, even when he was challenging shibboleths on either side--always with great good humor, but with intensity of purpose underneath.

Bob didn't even look the way CIA agents are supposed to. With his fullback's stature, tinted aviator glasses and cowboy boots, he was Hollywoods's image of a bomber pilot, not one of Smiley's People. And he set a standard for the CIA that should make any government proud. He often did so at great personal risk, and now sacrifice--leaving behind his wife and six children. Many officials in Washington, past and present, will miss his integrity, as we will miss his friendship