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Israel muted over Obama's Pentagon pick
Published Tuesday 08/01/2013 (updated) 10/01/2013 13:07
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- The Israeli government kept clear on Tuesday of a brewing battle in Washington over US President Barack Obama's choice for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, whose record on Iran and Israel is under scrutiny.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak offered no immediate comment on the pick, announced on Monday after being rumored for weeks in which some pro-Israel figures pilloried the former Republican senator.

Parting with the rightist government's reticence were two relatively junior officials, Civil Defense Minister Avi Dichter and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, neither of whom is expected to stay on after Israel's national election on Jan. 22.

"There have already been nominations in the past which looked very troubling to us, and ultimately reality turned out totally differently, both for better and for worse," Dichter told Israel Radio in an interview.

"Therefore I think we should be careful. We do not nominate people in agencies in other countries in general, and especially in the United States. So, as it is customary to say to those being nominated there: welcome."

Netanyahu, who is favored for reelection, has had a testy relationship with Obama, a Democrat who won a second term in November - though both insist their nations' alliance is sound.

Israel, which receives around $3 billion a year in US defense grants, has at times challenged the Obama administration by threatening preemptive war against the disputed Iranian nuclear program while world powers pursue talks with Tehran.

Obama has also criticized the Netanyahu government's settlement of occupied West Bank land, which the Palestinians blame for the two-year-old impasse in negotiations with Israel.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it hoped Hagel's appointment would change US policy and make Washington "more respectful of the rights of nations".

Good cop

The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom quoted an unnamed government official on Tuesday as saying the choice of Hagel was "very bad news", adding: "Clearly it won't be easy with him."

The official suggested having Hagel in the Pentagon would allow the president "to play 'good cop'" with Netanyahu.

Many Republicans say Hagel, who left the Senate in 2008, at times opposed Israel's interests. He voted repeatedly against US sanctions on Iran and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he called a "Jewish lobby" in Washington.

Hagel sought to beat back the bias allegations on Monday, telling the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper his record showed "unequivocal, total support for Israel" and that he had "said many times that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism".

"Furthering the peace process in the Middle East is in Israel's interest," added Hagel.

His statements appeared to be supported by Ayalon, a former envoy to the United States, who told Israel's biggest-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth: "I have met him many times, and he certainly regards Israel as a true and natural US ally."

Despite the criticisms of Hagel, the White House believes it can garner enough support for him on both sides of the political aisle to win confirmation in the Democrat-led Senate.

A decorated Vietnam war veteran, Hagel has criticized the size of the US military, telling the Financial Times in 2011 that the Pentagon was "bloated" and needed "to be pared down".

Hagel has also been attacked by gay rights groups for remarks in 1998 questioning whether an "openly aggressively gay" nominee could be an effective US ambassador. He apologized for the comments last month, saying they were "insensitive".

The American debate over Hagel has reached Israeli media, with one Yedioth columnist predicting the Pentagon pick would be Netanyahu's "nightmare". The prime minister delivered two speeches on Monday and Tuesday but made no reference to Hagel.

Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defense minister, played down the impact of Hagel's nomination on Obama's strategies.

"In the United States, policy is made by the president, not by the members of the cabinet," he told Reuters, noting that Ronald Reagan, a former president considered warm to Israel, had a less sympathetic defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger.
1 ) Mitri I. Musleh / Canada
08/01/2013 17:15
Hagel is not anti-Israel nor he is pro-Palestinian. Hagel is a self-confident man that he would tell you if you were wrong. Israel’s on- going occupation of Palestine and its antagonistic behaviour towards the Palestinians has been and continues to be wrong. A man of Hagel’s stature will expose the true nature of Israel’s deceitful ways to the whole world and this is what Israel’s leaders are afraid of.

2 ) betz55 / USA
08/01/2013 17:53
Israel, keep your dirty nose our of our politics. If you don't like Hagel that is the best sign that he is the best man for the job.

3 ) JoeUSA / USA
09/01/2013 01:09
Israel "objecting" to an American patriot like Hagel will not abode well for the average American on Main street USA. Americans are starting to follow an isolationist policy/view of the world and Israel is no exception to this trend....

09/01/2013 13:57

5 ) one and the / same
09/01/2013 13:59
@1 positive if not wishfull thinking.. dont expect anything from the american govt,or for that matter the isreali govt..

6 ) John / USA
09/01/2013 15:39
Its the Israeli firsters we need to shut up... This is the United States,no moreTreason !!!

7 ) Mel / USA
09/01/2013 16:11
Any rational Israeli Jews & US Jews need to break free of all this arbitrary"anti-Semitic"hasbara!Hasn't it DAWNED on many,especially those'cloistered'within(pre-67)Israel,that we who criticize radical ZIONISM the most,may actually CARE the most about ISRAEL surviving as a Jewish state within pre-67 borders?HAGEL has every right to criticize Zionist-Israel policies/actions,like all US tax payers do,as LONG as WE are FOOTING Israel's domestic,military,BILLS&covering its'diplomatic'criminal butt!
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