Israel mostly silent on Hagel pick
Prime Minister Netanyahu and most of his cabinet have been very careful to avoid any statements about Obama's pick for defense secretary Chuck Hagel. This despite several statements by the former Senator that could easily be construed as anti-Israeli.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak offered no immediate comment on the pick, announced on Monday after being rumored for weeks in which some pro-Israel figures pilloried the former Republican senator.
Parting with the rightist government's reticence were two relatively junior officials, Civil Defence Minister Avi Dichter and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, neither of whom is expected to stay on after Israel's national election on January 22.
"There have already been nominations in the past which looked very troubling to us, and ultimately reality turned out totally differently, both for better and for worse," Dichter told Israel Radio in an interview.
"Therefore I think we should be careful. We do not nominate people in agencies in other countries in general, and especially in the United States. So, as it is customary to say to those being nominated there: welcome."
Netanyahu, who is favored for reelection, has had a testy relationship with Obama, a Democrat who won a second term in November - though both insist their nations' alliance is sound.
Israel, which receives around $3 billion a year in U.S. defence grants, has at times challenged the Obama administration by threatening preemptive war against the disputed Iranian nuclear programme while world powers pursue talks with Tehran.
Obama has also criticized the Netanyahu government's settlement of occupied West Bank land, which the Palestinians blame for the two-year-old impasse in negotiations with Israel.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it hoped Hagel's appointment would change U.S. policy and make Washington "more respectful of the rights of nations".
I doubt whether Hagel would deliberately try to undermine Israeli security. We need a strong Israel and even Obama understands that. But his past statements would indicate a bias that would make the relationship between the two countries more difficult. Where cooperation is vital, any friction that arises because of Hagel's views would hurt our strategic partnership.
This may prove to be the real fallout from Hagel's nomination; a distancing from Israel at a time when we should be drawing closer together to face the Iranian threat.