Concern in Israel over Hagel policies

Wed, Jan 9, 2013, 00:00

A number of Israeli officials have expressed concern over US president Barack Obama’s choice for defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, noting that his policy on Iran and Israel seemed to be at odds with Jerusalem’s position.

Knesset parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin said Israel should be “concerned, but not afraid of Mr Hagel’s isolationist ideas”. He added that Israel would know how to handle the move without isolating itself from the strong hold of US security, stressing that “the individual appointment will in no way endanger the strategic relationship between Israel and the US”.

Pro-Israel groups in the US have criticised Mr Hagel, who left the US Senate in 2008, for opposing Israel’s interests. He voted repeatedly against US sanctions on Iran, criticised discussion of a military option to stop Tehran acquiring a nuclear bomb, and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he termed a “Jewish lobby” in Washington.

He has also spoken in favour of engaging with Hamas, which rules Gaza.

One of Mr Hagel’s toughest critics, US senator Lindsey Graham, said he would be “the most antagonistic secretary of defence toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history”.

‘Very bad news’

The Yisrael Hayom newspaper, favourable to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, quoted an unnamed Israeli official saying the choice of Mr Hagel was “very bad news”.

Relations between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu are already tense. It was widely believed that Mr Netanyahu favoured Republican candidate Mitt Romney for US president.