Chuck Hagel is the wrong choice for the post of US defense secretary, due to his known qualms over the possibility of wielding military force against Iran, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington said Tuesday. US President Barack Obama’s pick for the Pentagon would undermine the international community’s efforts to thwart Tehran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, the former diplomat said.
“Chuck Hagel is a bad candidate, period,” Itamar Rabinovich, who was Israel’s envoy in the US from 1993 to 1996, told US Jewish leaders at a panel discussion in Jerusalem.
Rabinovich was speaking hours before a scheduled Senate panel vote Tuesday on Hagel’s nomination. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the panel would meet Tuesday afternoon with the “intention to vote on the nomination after the members have an opportunity for discussion.”
Obama has come under fire from Jewish and Republican groups for nominating Hagel, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran and former Nebraska senator, because of his voting record on pro-Israel resolutions and past statements in which he expressed emphatic opposition to a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I appreciate the fact that somebody was a corporal or a sergeant in Vietnam. That makes him a great strategic expert. But he’s not a good choice for secretary of defense,” said Rabinovich, who’s also a former senior negotiator with Syria and professor emeritus of Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University. “And certainly in the Iranian context it sends a bad message; it undermines the credibility of the threat to use the military option, without which the people who invented the term ‘bazaar’ [the Iranians] will not negotiate seriously.”
Addressing the annual mission to Israel of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Rabinovich also commented on the at-times-heated discussions over whether Hagel was good for Israel.
“It’s bad for us that the argument over Chuck Hagel was very much conducted in terms of his attitude to Israel. It put us yet again in the middle of an American political partisan debate,” he said.