In Israel, Hagel presses agenda on Iran
JERUSALEM — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Israel on Sunday to begin a weeklong tour of the Middle East as the region grapples with the worsening civil war in Syria and the stubborn nuclear threat from Iran.
Making his first visit to the region as Pentagon chief, Hagel is seeking to demonstrate solidarity between the United States and Israel — allies whose relations have been strained over how to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon. Israel is said to be considering unilateral military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, a move that Obama administration officials consider extremely risky.
Hagel arrives bearing gifts, including the hope of cementing major arms sales to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that officials say would bolster each ally's military capabilities against the “shared threats” of Iran, the Syrian war and terrorism. The $10 billion deal, which requires approval from Congress, would send V-22 Osprey transport aircraft to Israel, 25 F-16 fighter jets to the UAE and F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, among other equipment.
“That's another very clear signal to Iran” that the United States hasn't ruled out trying to resolve the crisis with military force, Hagel said en route to Israel, where he was due to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials.
His two-day stay in Israel carries political significance because he was stung during his Senate confirmation process in January by charges from the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States that he wasn't sufficiently supportive of the Jewish state.
Although he often called Israel “a close friend and ally,” critics pointed to statements the former senator made that questioned the wisdom of military action to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. They referred to his remarks in a 2006 interview in which he said the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” on Capitol Hill.
As Defense secretary, Hagel has echoed the Obama administration's line that “all options are on the table” with regard to Iran, and he has supported Israel's right to defend itself.