Top contender for the next US Secretary of Defense and former senator Chuck Hagel
US President Barack Obama is expected to nominate former Senator Chuck Hagel, an outspoken critic of Israel, as the next Pentagon chief.
The White House Counsel's office has reportedly completed Hagel’s vetting process after Obama discussed the position with the former Republican Nebraska Senator on December 4, The Politico
news organization reported.
Michele Flournoy, former defense undersecretary for policy, and Ashton Carter, deputy defense secretary are the other contenders for the post.
Some in the Israeli lobby have reportedly reacted with alarm to reports of Hagel’s nomination as he is known as an outspoken critic of the Zionist lobby in Washington.
“The political reality is … that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” Hagel told former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller in a 2006 interview.
“I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do,” he added.
In a 2008 interview, Hagel noted that he had never signed any of the letters by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) aimed at showing support for Israel or taking stances against Israel’s enemies.
“I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” he reiterated.
Josh Block, a former AIPAC spokesman has lashed out at Hagel for “consistently voting against sanctions on Iran” over the country’s nuclear energy program and refusing to call on the European Union to name Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
The top nominee for the post of Defense Secretary was the first Republican senator to publicly criticize the war in Iraq, calling it the worst foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam War, and he has consistently opposed any plan to launch military strike against Iran.
While Hagel was considering a presidential bid in 2007, he was criticized by the National Jewish Democratic Council which said the senator “has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.”
In 2009, Hagel signed a statement calling on Obama to encourage a unity government between the two major Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.
Pundits believe that appointment of Hagel could spark tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv, but they predict no considerable trouble in his confirmation process in the Congress as he enjoys a bipartisan support.