Israel officially welcomed Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as US defense secretary on Tuesday, with its ambassador saying it looks forward to working closely with him in the future.
“Under the Obama Administration, security ties between the United States and Israel have been superb. We are fully confident that those bonds will grow stronger still as our countries continue to meet common challenges to our security,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
The Senate voted 58-41 to confirm Hagel Tuesday, with four Republicans joining the Democrats after an unprecedented political fight that touched on Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons.
Republicans had opposed their onetime Republican Senate colleague, casting him as unqualified, hostile toward Israel, and soft on Iran. They described him as a radical and far out of the mainstream.
Hagel faced an onslaught of criticism by Republicans as well as right-leaning outside groups that labeled the former senator “anti-Israel” and pressured senators to oppose the nomination.
Opponents were particularly incensed by Hagel’s use of the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to pro-Israel groups. He apologized, saying he should have used another term and should not have said those groups have intimidated members of the Senate into favoring actions contrary to US interests.
While Israel kept out of the internal political battle, Jewish groups in the US remained entrenched in their partisan positions even after his confirmation.
“We are disappointed that Chuck Hagel’s nomination won confirmation from the Senate. Respecting the President’s prerogative to name his Cabinet members does not outweigh the Senate’s duty to examine nominees and withhold consent from someone who is not qualified for the office,” read a statement by the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Chuck Hagel’s statements on Israel and the ‘Jewish lobby’ raised serious concerns about his fitness to serve. His views on Iran are also deeply troubling. Hagel’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee showed that he lacks an understanding of the issues facing our defense forces and national security leaders. And he does not have the experience in running a large and complex organization that would make him an effective secretary of defense.”
“Sadly, we continue to believe that the choice of Chuck Hagel for this post sends the wrong message to the American people, our allies, and our adversaries,” said RJC executive director Matt Brooks.
“We fought the good fight, and are proud to have done so. We salute all those — Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Jews — who joined with us in the effort to secure a better Secretary of Defense,” said Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) chairman William Kristol in a statement. “We are heartened that the overwhelming majority of senators from one of the two major parties voted against confirming Mr. Hagel. We take some comfort in Mr. Hagel’s confirmation conversions on the issues of Israel and Iran, and do believe that, as a result of this battle, Mr. Hagel will be less free to pursue dangerous policies at the Defense Department and less inclined to advocate them within the administration. And since hope is an American characteristic and a Jewish virtue, we will also say that we hope Mr. Hagel will rise to the occasion and successfully discharge his weighty duties. In this task we wish him well.”
The leftist pro-Israel lobby JStreet welcomed the confirmation, saying that Hagel’s “recognition that achieving a two-state solution is ultimately the only way to secure Israel’s future for generations to come” demonstrated that he “places a higher premium on his strategic analysis than on political posturing.”
“It is precisely Hagel’s understanding that war should always be the final option that will make him an outstanding Secretary of Defense,” read the group’s statement, adding that “it was very unfortunate that some of Hagel’s opponents felt the need to spend vast sums of money to mount a campaign of slander and innuendo against him.”
“Chuck Hagel will add a powerful voice to those of us who believe that a two-state solution is not just fundamental to Israel if it is to remain both Jewish and democratic, but fundamental also to America if we are to succeed in promoting security and stability in the Middle East and the world,” concluded JStreet’s statement.
Hagel, 66, a twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran, succeeds Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He joins President Barak Obama’s new second-term, national security team of Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director-designate John Brennan at a time of uncertainty for a military emerging from two wars and fighting worldwide terrorism with smaller, deficit-driven budgets.
Obama welcomed the Senate vote, saying in a statement that “we will have the defense secretary our nation needs and the leader our troops deserve.”
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