In the never-ending battle to reduce tensions in the Middle East, word has leaked that President Obama is considering Chuck Hagel, a Republican known for his anti-Israel views, to lead the Department of Defense after the departure of current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Those views, as well as his harsh criticism of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has led some to believe that if he were to replace Leon Panetta as the Secretary of Defense, that it would signal that the United States was prepared to shift its position in the ongoing tensions between HAMAS and Israel, and calling officially for Israel to negotiate face to face with HAMAS. Until now, Israel was able to be confident that it could count on the support of the U.S. military if open war were to break out between HAMAS and the Israeli military. Today, some here in the U.S. are speculating that if Barack Obama does nominate Hagel to become the next Defense Secretary, it could send a dangerous signal to Israel's enemies in the Middle East, and could signal all out war in the U.S. Senate. It's even possible that a Hagel nomination could derail additional relief funding for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Conservative Republicans are enraged by the news. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), is predicting that Hagel would be “the most antagonistic secretary of Defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history". Graham, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" program, said the choice was an "in-your-face" nomination. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that while Hagel would get a "fair hearing", he would also be asked "tough questions" in any nomination hearing. Hagel has previously called on direct negotiations between HAMAS, a terrorist organization, and Israel, and has opposed some sanctions on Iran. Both of these positions have strengthened the political hand of HAMAS and Iran in any future negotiations with Israel, or in the wider context of a political resolution in Syria.
Graham said that, "quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking I believe on most issues regarding foreign policy", and went on to say "this an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel." AIPAC, the largest U.S. based political group that lobbies on behalf of Jewish-Americans, officially has condemned Hagel for his previous remarks about the organization, and is expected to "vigorously oppose" his nomination in the Senate. Some in South Florida, and in New York, are saying that rumors of Hagel's nomination is signaling that President Obama has betrayed his Democratic supporters who also support Israel.
With ever-increasing tensions in the Middle East, and a big fight looming between Democrats and Republicans over the sequester (which could have a significant and devastating impact to U.S. combat readiness), the choice for Hagel seems a poor choice by the President. As each day passes in the 113th Congress, it is becoming increasingly clear that the President wants to ramp up pressure on Republicans on all sides for the purposes of bringing the Republicans to their knees in the fight over the debt ceiling. If Barack Obama does, in fact, nominate Hagel to replace Leon Panetta, it could lead to increased tensions between HAMAS and Israel. Most in the region are concerned that the ongoing ceasefire between HAMAS and Israel could break down if the U.S. does, in fact, place Chuck Hagel over all U.S. military forces.
Then, there is the Iran problem. Iran has threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, through which the majority of the world's oil flows. One has to wonder whether or not Hagel would use U.S. military assets to reopen the waterway, if Iran does as it has threatened. What would Hagel's confirmation mean in the balance of power between Iran and Israel? At this point, Hagel's nomination certainly is not going to improve the outlook for Israel's citizens in terms of the threat from Iran. If anything, just the announcement that the White House would consider such a vocal opponent of Israel, and those who lobby on issues of importance to Jewish-Americans, has sent chills down the collective spines of Jews all across America.