Israel uneasy over Obama selection of Kerry and Hagel

Monday, December 17, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

There has been much unofficial reaction in Israel in recent days to the expected appointment of Senator John Kerry as America's next secretary of state and of former senator Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense.

In both cases, Israel is not all that thrilled by President Barack Obama's choices.

While Kerry is generally seen as a friend of Israel in the US Congress (his voting record on Israel is "clean"), there are some problem spots as far as Jerusalem is concerned, and Kerry has been somewhat condescending regarding Israeli concerns in the past.

Most of the concern over Kerry stems from his spearheading an effort at the start of Obama's first term to revive ties between the US and the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. In hindsight, that was a very poor assessment of the situation on the ground, and it is fortunate for US interests in the region that his agenda failed.

But there are indications that as secretary of state, Kerry would repeat his mistake by promoting engagement with groups like Hamas and pressing Israel to compromise its security.

Kerry also rejects the notion that Jews have a right to live in Judea, Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem, despite the fact that those areas constitute the biblical heartland of ancient Israel.

More worrisome is Republican Chuck Hagel, who has made no secret of his disdain for America's "special relationship" with Israel, and has become a poster boy for Israel's antagonists in the US.

Among those hailing the choice of Hagel is Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, who co-authored the book The Israel Lobby, which criticizes the US for so staunchly supporting Israel and blames the situation on an "all powerful" pro-Israel lobby.

Last week, Walt wrote that by choosing Hagel for secretary of defense, Obama had effectively "paid back" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for, as Walt put it, being uncooperative.

That Hagel is bad for Israel, especially at a time of such sensitivity regarding the Iran nuclear threat, is apparently widespread knowledge in Washington.

When Obama first ran for president in 2008, his Jewish outreach director, Ira Forman, stated that "if [Hagel] was taking a policy position, we'd have real concerns."

Hagel is on record as calling for engagement with Iran's current leadership, and has repeatedly downplayed the danger of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic. Threats by Iran's religious and political leadership to annihilate Israel have been all but dismissed by Hagel.

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