Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Israel, Iran quarrel on Obama’s Pentagon pick

    Tuesday, January 08, 2013   No comments

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next U.S. secretary of defense has caused jitters in Israel, where some circles view the former Nebraska senator as unsympathetic or even hostile. Meanwhile Iran, Israel’s arch-foe, says it is hopeful that Hagel will be appointed to lead the Pentagon.

Hagel’s positions on Israel’s two most pressing foreign policy issues, Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the Palestinians, appear to be at odds with the Israeli government, and critics fear the appointment could increase pressure on Israel to make unwanted concessions. The appointment could also signal further strains in what is already a cool relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried,” Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Israeli Parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said. Rivlin’s comments reflected what has been a common sentiment among analysts and commentators in recent days. In their evening news broadcasts, Israel’s three main TV stations Jan. 7 all portrayed Hagel as cool toward Israel.

Known as a maverick in the Senate, Hagel has raised eyebrows in Israel with a series of comments and actions over the years that some here have deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel. Hagel once said “the Jewish lobby [in the United States] intimidates a lot of people here” and does some “dumb things” that aren’t “smart for Israel.” He also said that “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”

“I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel,” he said. Six years ago, he refused to sign a letter pressing the European Union to declare the Lebanese Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

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