JERUSALEM — President Barack Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next U.S. secretary of defense is causing jitters in Israel, where some circles view the former Nebraska senator as unsympathetic or even hostile.
Hagel's positions on Israel's two most pressing foreign policy issues — Iran's nuclear program and relations with the Palestinians — appear to be at odds with the Israeli government, and critics here fear the appointment could increase pressure on the Jewish state to make unwanted concessions. The appointment could also signal further strains in what is already a cool relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to win re-election 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 The Associated Press. But, he added, the strategic partnership between the U.S. 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 defense 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."