Israel muted on Pentagon pick

Tue, Jan 8, 2013, 00:00

The Israeli government kept clear today 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.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak offered no immediate comment on the pick, announced yesterday after being rumoured 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 defence minister Avi Dichter and deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, neither of whom is expected to stay on after Israel's national election on January 22nd.

"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," Mr 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."

Mr Netanyahu, who is favoured for reelection, has had a testy relationship with Mr 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 defence grants, has at times challenged the Obama administration by threatening preemptive war against the disputed Iranian nuclear programme while world powers pursue talks with Tehran.

Mr Obama has also criticised 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 today it hoped Mr Hagel's appointment would change US policy and make Washington "more respectful of the rights of nations".


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