Hagel nomination causes jitters in Israel



Zeenews Bureau

Jerusalem: Chuck Hagel’s nomination by US President Barack Obama as the country’s next secretary of defence has unnerved Israel, where many see the ex-Nebraska senator as unsympathetic or even hostile.

Hagel's views on Iran's nuclear program and ties with the Palestinians are at odds with the Israeli position. Many in Israel are sceptic that Hagel’s appointment could lead to Israel making unwanted concessions.

The appointment comes on the back strained ties between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is likely to get re-elected later this month.

"Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried," Reuven Rivlin, the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament and a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, told AP. But, he added, the strategic partnership between the US and Israel is strong and "one person doesn't determine policy."

Netanyahu's office refused to comment on the appointment, as did officials in the Israeli Foreign and Defence Ministries. But Rivlin's comments reflected what has been a common sentiment among analysts and commentators here in recent days. In their evening news broadcasts, Israel's three main TV stations on Monday all portrayed Hagel as cool toward Israel.

Known as a maverick in the Senate, Hagel has raised eyebrows in Israel with a series of comments and actions over the years that some here have deemed insufficiently supportive of the Jewish state.

Hagel once said "the Jewish lobby (in the United States) intimidates a lot of people here" and does some "dumb things" that aren't "smart for Israel." He also said that "I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator."

"I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel," he said.

Six years ago, he refused to sign a letter pressing the European Union to declare the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group a terrorist organization.

(With Agency inputs)