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Pentagon nominee vows 'total support' for Israel
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 7, 2013

Israel commentators unfazed by Hagel nomination
Jerusalem (AFP) Jan 7, 2013 - Israeli commentators played down the impact on relations with the United States of Monday's nomination as Pentagon chief of Republican former senator Chuck Hagel, criticised by heavyweights in his own party for being anti-Israel.

"Barack Obama did not choose Chuck Hagel because of his views on Israel and the president will not base his Israel policy on the views of Chuck Hagel", said the commentator of Israel's Channel Two television.

"On the contrary, as the president underlined, he will remain the commander in chief of foreign policy," the commentator said, adding that he did not expect US military aid to Israel of more than $3 billion dollars a year to be affected if Hagel's appointment was confirmed by the Senate.

The commentator of Channel 10, also privately owned, said Obama had nominated the Republican primarily to help push through major spending cuts within the US military.

He said the one person who might struggle with Hagel as defence secretary was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had bad personal relations with him. Hagel "is not an enemy of Israel but an enemy of Netanyahu," he said.

Rightwing pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom said in a editorial before the nomination that his appointment would be "problematic".

"Hagel believes that Israeli-Palestinian conflict destabilises the middle East. Let's hope there are people in the Pentagon who remind him from time to time of the existence of Iran," it said.

Pro-opposition daily Haaretz countered that Hagel's positions on the peace process were "shared by a large number of Israelis on the centre and left of the political spectrum."

Despite the fact that he is a fellow Republican, heavyweights in his party have accused him of hostility toward Israel and naivety on Iran.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, pointing to Hagel's calls for direct US negotiations with Iran and for Israel to negotiate with Hamas, said he would be "the most antagonistic defence secretary towards the state of Israel in our nation's history."

Another Republican senator, John Cornyn of Texas, said he would oppose the nomination, charging it would be the "worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East."

Hagel himself pledged on Monday to give his "total support" for Israel.

There is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one vote (of mine) that matters that hurt Israel," he told The Lincoln Journal Star newspaper in his home state of Nebraska.

Chuck Hagel, bracing for a bruising Senate confirmation as the next US defense secretary, pledged Monday "total support" for Israel after lawmakers criticized his views on the Middle East.

There is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one vote (of mine) that matters that hurt Israel," the former Republican senator told The Lincoln Journal Star, a newspaper in his home state of Nebraska.

Hagel and Democratic President Barack Obama did not address the controversy as he was nominated at the White House. But the Nebraska newspaper quoted the famously blunt senator as saying critics have "completely distorted" his record.

Hagel said that, until his nomination was announced, he had been "hanging out in no-man's land unable to respond to charges, falsehoods and distortions" and that he has shown "unequivocal, total support for Israel."

Pro-Israel lawmakers have denounced Hagel, with some commentators accusing him of anti-Semitism, for his past comments that "the Jewish lobby" intimidated members of Congress and that he is "not an Israeli senator."

In what could be a preview of his case in confirmation hearings, Hagel told the newspaper he did not sign on to largely symbolic resolutions in Congress supported by a pro-Israeli group because they were "counter-productive."

"How does that further the peace process in the Middle East?" Hagel asked. "What's in Israel's interest is to help Israel and the Palestinians find some peaceful way to live together."

Hagel's critics have also denounced him for opposing economic sanctions on Iran. US lawmakers accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons, although the clerical government says that its program is for peaceful purposes.

Hagel told the newspaper that he opposed sanctions that were imposed only by the United States.

"United Nations sanctions are working. When we just decree something, that doesn't work," he said.

The Obama administration, after initial outreach to Iran, has worked through the United Nations to impose sanctions. Obama also signed a tough law initiated by Congress that punishes countries that buy Iran's oil, its key export.

On cue as Obama announced the nomination, the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel put online a website that attacks Hagel as "not a responsible option." The website is, the nominee apparently having failed to secure the address with his name.

Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee that must approve Hagel, said his nomination "deserves to be fully vetted" under the "time-tested process."

But Inhofe said he would seek clarifications about "serious concerns" over some of Hagel's positions.

Republican Senator John McCain, who also serves on the committee, congratulated the fellow Vietnam veteran on the nomination and said Hagel "served our nation with honor," but also said he had "serious concerns."

Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat who heads the committee, said that Hagel was "well-qualified" and promised "prompt and careful consideration" of the nomination.

In the House of Representatives, which does not confirm nominations, Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he was "profoundly concerned" and called Hagel's past statements on Israel "inflammatory."

Cantor, the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, said Hagel's views "are well outside the mainstream and raise well-founded doubts that he can be trusted to manage the special relationship the United States shares with our greatest Middle Eastern ally."

Hagel still has shrapnel in his chest from Vietnam, a war that fueled his belief that military action should be a last resort. He angered fellow Republicans through his blunt criticism of the Iraq war which included calling the efforts of President George W. Bush's administration "beyond pitiful."

Hagel, however, was conservative on most issues in the Senate and opposed an ambassador named by former president Bill Clinton because the nominee was openly gay. Hagel recently apologized for the episode.

Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, told MSNBC that she wanted to speak to Hagel to "see if his apology is sincere and sufficient."


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