Mixed response in Israel to Chuck Hagel nomination

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 10, 2013
Hagel: Obama's choice (Photo: AP)

Hagel: Obama's choice (Photo: AP)

President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate former senator Chuck Hagel as his administration’s next secretary of defence has elicited mixed responses in Jerusalem.

Overall, it appears that few in Israel share the alarm that the nomination of Mr Hagel — who has been critical of Israeli policies in the past and is against a strike on Iran — has caused in the Republican Party in Washington.

No serving official or government minister was willing to comment on the record regarding the nomination, particularly after what was regarded by many in both countries as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney during last year’s presidential election.

While some, mainly in Mr Netanyahu’s close circle, believe that the nomination reflects a certain animosity of the Obama administration towards Israel, the consensus is that it has nothing to do with Israel and that Mr Hagel was nominated largely because Mr Obama wanted a veteran Republican capable of carrying out deep cuts in the American defence budget.

Israeli diplomats seeking to reduce any possible tension said that along with his criticisms, Mr Hagel has also spoken out in favour of Israel numerous times and that his views on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were similar to those of the Israeli centre-left parties.

Some officials also mentioned that Mr Hagel has a good relationship with Defence Minister Ehud Barak. While he is not running in these elections, many in the defence establishment believe that Mr Barak wants to remain minister and the fact that he has a positive rapport with the man who will probably be the next Defence Secretary in Washington could influence his reappointment after the elections.

Giora Eiland, a former National Security Adviser and head of the IDF Planning Directorate who was involved for years in the military and strategic dialogue between Israel and the US, said this week: “It is an important appointment but I would not make too much out of it. The main person who influences the strategic relationship between the two countries, after the president, is the secretary of state.

“The defence secretary has less importance when it comes to foreign policy and what is really important is that relations at senior levels of the American military and intelligence services remain strong.”

Last updated: 3:45pm, January 10 2013