Netanyahu and Hagel 370.
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Now that Chuck Hagel has completed his first trip to Israel as US defense secretary, it’s time for the pro-Israel community to acknowledge the obvious: Secretary Hagel has demonstrated that he is following the president’s lead when it comes to supporting Israel. Like his predecessors, Hagel has personally committed himself to strengthening the US-Israel defense relationship and working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and many others enthusiastically welcomed Secretary Hagel for a series of top-level meetings. The secretary’s trip was an unqualified success for the Obama administration.
Netanyahu expressed his confidence in Secretary Hagel by declaring, “In the past four years, we’ve greatly enhanced the defense and security relationship between Israel and the United States, and I am absolutely confident that we will continue to further strengthen this under your stewardship of the American defense establishment.” Politico quoted a senior defense official traveling with the delegation as saying, “In Hagel’s meetings with Israeli leaders – including Prime Minister Netanyahu – they repeatedly offered strong praise for President Obama. They believe he is strongly committed to Israel’s security and clearly understands how Israel views the security challenges in the Middle East.”
Ya’alon also expressed his support for Secretary Hagel by saying, “I want, Chuck, to express my personal appreciation for your friendship and for your solid and powerful support for our country. Toda raba.”
The Israelis have good reason to be so welcoming to Secretary Hagel. He has proved himself firmly committed to America’s “iron-clad pledge... to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge [QEM].” Under his watch, Israel will be a party to an unprecedented regional arms deal that will see the Jewish state receive advanced V-22 Ospreys, KC-135 refueling tankers, anti-radar missiles and advanced radar systems – some of which were denied Israel by the Bush administration.
The new deal will simultaneously boost Israel’s QME and send a firm warning to Iran that force is a real option to stop its nuclear program. Secretary Hagel has also sought nearly $400 million in funding for the Iron Dome antimissile system, to be delivered in the coming years.
It’s no coincidence Secretary Hagel’s first meeting with a foreign leader was with then-defense minister Ehud Barak – a former prime minister and Israel’s most decorated soldier. Before their meeting, Barak declared at the 2013 American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference, “As secretary of defense [Hagel] will no doubt serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served both on the battlefield and in Congress.”
Admittedly, the National Jewish Democratic Council was sometimes critical of Hagel when he served in the Senate. In retrospect, certain aspects of the NJDC’s criticism may have gone too far. But our prior criticisms were negligible compared to the disgraceful treatment he received during the confirmation process: Hagel was wrongfully slandered as anti- Semitic, libeled as a so-called “Friend of Hamas,” and treated with complete disrespect by certain Republicans who seemed more interested in future primary challenges and the politics of personal destruction than the confirmation process.
Hagel’s tenure to this point has done more than enough to rebut these malicious and false charges leveled by his fellow Republicans.
Given this turn of events, it’s time for his harshest critics to start making amends and admit that they were wrong.
A number of Congressional Republicans have started that process. House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-California) – an initial critic – now gives Secretary Hagel an A rating on his performance. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) – who skewered him during the confirmation process – told The Hill that the two now have a “professional relationship” and that “it is my job to work with him.”
Obviously Senator McCain has not offered a ringing endorsement and is unlikely to do so, but there are many who would be well served by following his lead.
If Secretary Hagel’s critics on Capitol Hill can begin to warm to him, then his most ardent critics in the pro-Israel community should as well. They co-opted the pro-Israel community’s agenda and used Secretary Hagel as a proxy for attacking President Obama. In the process, they spread baseless lies and undermined bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship. It’s time for them to undo the damaged they caused and apologize for their shameful behavior.
The writer is the chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.