Israel-US relations to remain strained after Hagel nomination

Tuesday, January 08, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

Signs that US President Barack Obama's next term will further strain US-Israel relations were evident on Monday in the aftermath of Obama's official nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as the new US Secretary of Defense.

Hagel has a long history of hostile positions toward Israel, and many analysts saw his nomination as Obama's revenge for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supporting his rival, Mitt Romney, in the recent US presidential election.

During the last Bush Administration, Hagel refused to sign on to Senate resolutions that backed Israel is in its respective fights against Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorism, and he criticized President Bush for failing to meet with Yasser Arafat.

Hagel later had unkind words for the pro-Israel lobby in America, and stated that US-Israel relations "must not come at the expense of our Arab relationships."

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned that Hagel would be "the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history."

Officials in Jerusalem were also uneasy over the appointment.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin echoed the feelings of most Israelis when he told local media that Israel should be concerned, but not scared by Hagel's nomination.

Rivlin argued that while Hagel might take hostile positions toward Israel, it must be remembered that the Jewish state enjoys strong support from many other quarters in the US government, and one man cannot completely overturn that.

For his part, Hagel came out swinging on Monday, insisting that he has been nothing but a friend to Israel.

In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, the former Nebraska senator was adamant that there is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israel."

Asked why he had not signed on to previous pro-Israel resolutions in the Senate, Hagel said he didn't see the need to put his name to documents that provided moral, but not practical support. "They were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem," he said.

Meanwhile, Iran is perfectly pleased with Hagel's nomination, viewing it as an effort by the Obama Administration to lessen tension between the US and the Islamic Republic.

Tehran likes Hagel's hard-nosed position toward Israel, as well as his opposition to taking harsh action against Iran over its defiant nuclear program.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said he hoped Hagel taking over the Department of Defense would result in "practical changes" in America's foreign policy.

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