Let's begin by making it clear that new US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
is a friend of Israel
and is attentive to the Jewish state's vital security and diplomatic interests.
His voting record as a Nebraska senator during the years 1996-2008 on issues directly or indirectly related to Israel was impeccable. His support for the military aid packages, as well as other aid packages to Israel was absolute. His statements regarding the need to exhaust the diplomatic efforts before threatening to use military force against Iran
are no different than remarks made by President Obama
and Secretary of State Kerry on the matter.
Most importantly, his position on Iran is, in essence, no different than that of President Peres, Defense Minister Barak, former Prime Minister Olmert and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan. Since these four prominent figures are obviously pro-Israel, the accusations made against Hagel by a few eccentric Republicans during the bizarre and absurdly political confirmation hearings at the Senate Armed Services Committee are false.
Secondly, the secretary of defense does not formulate the actual policy on Iran and his opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process does not carry any significant weight.
Therefore, the basic assumption that Hagel's appointment will affect US-Israel relations is unfounded. The man is pro-Israel at his core, and in any case the secretary of defense has little influence on the direction and nature of these relations. The relations between the American and Israeli defense establishments are deep-rooted and are based on the great trust between IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The notion that Israel and its supporters in Washington ascribe any importance to Hagel's appointment is ridiculous, not really sophisticated and strengthens the negative feeling that Israel intervenes in American politics too much, and with zero success. Moreover, the failed campaign against Hagel by people and organizations who find it difficult to accept the results of the November 2012 elections was imprudent and kind of nasty.
We must keep in mind that Hagel is the defense secretary of the United States of America. He is not Israel's super-security minister. He is responsible for America's national security, for running the largest corporation in the world - the Pentagon, and he is also in charge of America' defense budget (some $70 billion, which equals Israel's entire national budget). In his first week in office Hagel will have to deal with a $45 billion budget cut.
Hagel was not appointed to formulate plans for a war in Iran or shape America's policy in the Middle East. This is the job of the president, the commander-in-chief. The secretary of state is in charge of the diplomatic aspect of America's policy.
Hagel will serve as defense secretary until 2016. Israel would be wise to recognize his friendship, work with him and avoid tying its political interests to his opposers. They've lost twice already.
Alon Pinkas served as Israel's consul general in New York