Former senator Chuck Hagel is a “bad choice” for US secretary of defense, not
because of his attitude toward Israel, but because of the message his
appointment sends to Iran, former ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich said on
Rabinovich’s words to the annual meeting in Jerusalem of the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations came just hours
before the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee was scheduled to vote on Hagel’s
Hagel has been accused of being soft on Iran because he voted
against sanctions as a senator and has come out in the past against preemptive
military action to stop Tehran’s nuclear march.
Rabinovich, whom Yitzhak
Rabin sent to Washington as his ambassador in 1993 and who served until 1996,
said that without a credible military threat against Iran, sanctions and
negotiations would not work. He said that the nomination of Hagel and of John
Kerry as secretary of state sent the wrong message to the
Rabinovich said that while he appreciated Hagel’s service in
Vietnam, he was not a good choice to head the Pentagon “especially in the
Iranian context, it undermined the idea of a credible military
Rabinovich, on a panel that included three other former
ambassadors to the US – Moshe Arad, Moshe Arens and Sallai Meridor – said that
when US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel next month it would be
important to create a “sense of movement,” a sense that “things are not frozen,”
on the Palestinian track.”
Rabinovich said he was among those who did not
believe that a final agreement with the Palestinians was currently possible, but
that this did not mean the status quo should be accepted. Rather, he said, there
was a “large space” between the status quo and a final agreement, and that it
was within that space that the discussions should take place.
envoy said that “mutual trust” was the most important ingredient in the
relationship between any US president and Israeli prime minister, and that the
trust was not there for the past four years. The most important achievement of
the Obama visit, he said, would be if that mutual trust could be
Meridor, who served as ambassador to Washington from 2006 to
2009, said the trust between Obama and Netanyahu “can only be repaired by
deeds,” not by talk.
Doing so was highly important, “but will take a lot
of work,” he said.
Regarding the Palestinian question, Meridor said that
while a comprehensive agreement did not seem likely in the current situation,
the US and Israel would have to work out whether to focus on “active conflict
management,” and steps on the ground to alleviate the situation, or to reach a
“nowar” agreement, that would fall short of a peace accord but win the
acquiescence of Hamas.
Arens, ambassador to the US for 12 months in 1982
to 1983, said there was no other country in the world with as close a
relationship with the US as Israel.
While the two countries shared the
same strategic goals, as a result of shared values and ideals, they did have
different opinions on how to reach those goals, he said. The best way to solve
those differences, he said, was to go by the following rule: If something is of
utmost, life and death import to one country, the other will defer.
the peace process,” Arens said. “There is no denying that the concessions that
Israel will or will not be prepared to make are of utmost importance to Israel.
These are life and death issues, nobody can deny that. It is important to the US
as well, but not of utmost import – the fate and future of the US does not
depend on progress in the peace process.”
That rule, followed for the
most part for many years, changed during Obama’s first term, Arens said. He
added that what was often forgotten in Israel, however, was that the US-Israel
relationship was not just between the White House and the Prime Minister’s
Office, but is also with Congress, the public and the media. And in all of the
various layers of the relationship, he maintained, “I think we are doing pretty