Israeli officials are particularly concerned that the nomination of the Nebraska Republican, as well as Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to be secretary of state, will increase tensions between the United States and its key ally in the Middle East.
In particular, the Israelis view the choice of Mr. Hagel to head the Pentagon as the first step in President Obama’s new, softer policy toward Iran. As for Mr. Kerry, the Israelis fear his running of U.S. foreign policy will result in more pressure on Israel regarding the Palestinians and West Bank settlement activity.
Israeli officials have been cautious in on-the-record comments about Mr. Hagel.
Avi Dichter, Israel’s home front minister, was asked by Voice of Israel radio earlier this month about Mr. Hagel and said: “We wish him well.” Privately, Israeli officials are pessimistic, with one telling a newspaper, “This is very bad news for Israel.”
By contrast, Iran’s government cautiously welcomed the Hagel nomination. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast voiced limited optimism on an Iranian Facebook page about Mr. Hagel taking over the Pentagon.
U.S. officials say the positive tone coming from Tehran suggests a greater chance of U.S.-Iran talks this year. Iranian enthusiasm for Mr. Hagel contrasts with the appointments of two predecessors, Leon E. Panetta and Robert M. Gates, whose nominations were met with silence from Tehran.
Iranian media reports also welcomed Mr. Hagel for his anti-Israel views and for his opposition to military attacks on Iran. They see Mr. Hagel as defense secretary as a further deterioration in relations between the Obama administration and the government Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who won re-election this week.
Mr. Mehmanparast told reporters in Tehran that Mr. Hagel could be a sign of “practical changes in U.S. foreign policy.” However, he added that Iran does not place stock in official U.S. statements because in the past they did not translate into action. The state-run IRNA news agency called the secretary-designate someone “known for pro-Iran and anti-Zionist views.”
In Beijing, the state-controlled press also welcomed the nomination of Mr. Hagel.
Shen Dingli, a professor at the government-controlled Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai was quoted as saying: “I see Chuck Hagel is a good candidate. He had the honesty to oppose the Iraq War — a moderate and respectful Republican.”
“If Hagel serves as secretary of defense, it will to some extent boost the strength of rational pragmatists in the Obama administration,” Yuan Zheng, a researcher at the state-run Institute of American Studies, was quoted in the newspaper as saying.
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Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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