Ahead of confirmation as secretary of defense, former senator says
he will seek to increase US-Israel cooperation on missile defense.
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDE
WASHINGTON – Chuck Hagel informed US senators on Wednesday that he is committed to ensuring the military is prepared for a potential attack on Iran and that defense cooperation with Israel continues a day before his hearing to be confirmed as the next secretary of defense.“The United States should take no options off the table in our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he wrote in a 112-page questionnaire submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of their consideration of his nomination Thursday. “If confirmed, I will focus intently on ensuring that US military is in fact prepared for any contingency.”He also said, “While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing.” He listed the race to keep Iran from building a nuclear weapon as a top security challenge, adding that the next Pentagon chief “must maintain our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” to protect US strategic interests.To do so, Hagel noted that he would seek to increase US-Israel joint cooperation on missile defense.“I am proud of the work that the United States has done in support of the ballistic missile defense of Israel and, if confirmed, I will continue to support these efforts,” he wrote.On Syria, Hagel also indicated he was in agreement with current American policy.“The Syrian people are in great need during this difficult period, and the United States is helping to address those basic needs by providing medical assistance, humanitarian assistance and political support on the international stage,” he said. “I do not believe that providing lethal support to the armed opposition at this time will alleviate the horrible situation we see in Syria.”AdvertisementHagel’s written answers to the committee’s questions gave an indication of what his testimony is likely to reveal Thursday about his views, and the prominent role Iran, Israel and Syria will probably play in the hearing.Meanwhile, activists on both sides of the divide have been hard at work trying to persuade senators to endorse their view of the former Republican senator from Nebraska.Christians United for Israel brought more than 400 members to Washington on Tuesday to oppose the nomination, and on Wednesday J Street held a conference call praising the senator in hopes that he would be confirmed.Those speaking in favor of the nominee included Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), former US ambassador to Israel Thomas Pickering, former Democratic Florida representative Robert Wexler and Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense.Wexler pushed back against critics who have called Hagel weak on Israel and Iran, arguing that is an inaccurate reading of his record.“For those of us who hold the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel dear, senator Hagel’s nomination for secretary of defense is yet another strong indicator of President [Barack] Obama’s historic commitment to the security of the state of Israel,” Wexler said.