Hosting U.S. defense chief, Israel hints at patience on Iran


Israel suggested on Monday it would be patient before taking any military action against Iran's nuclear program, saying during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel there was still time for other options.

With Iran's presidential election approaching in June there has been a pause in hawkish rhetoric by Israel, which has long hinted at possible air strikes to deny its arch-foe any means to make an atomic bomb, while efforts by six world powers to find a negotiated solution with Tehran have proved fruitless so far.

“We believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters at a news conference with Hagel.

“And there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted,” Yaalon said, listing diplomacy, economic sanctions and “moral support” for domestic opponents of Iran's hardline Islamist leadership.

Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons capability, saying it is enriching uranium only for domestic energy purposes while calling for the elimination of the Jewish state. Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how urgent the need may be to consider military action against Iran. Washington has suggested more time should be given for concerted diplomacy combined with sanctions pressure to produce a peaceful solution.

But with Obama recently installed in his second term, and Netanyahu in his third, the allies have publicly closed ranks. The United States projects more defense aid for Israel after the current disbursements of some $3 billion a year expire in 2017. And Hagel unveiled the planned sale to Israel of missiles, warplane radars, troop transport planes and refueling jets.

“These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever, and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future,” Hagel said.

By contrast, the Bush administration in 2008 declined to provide Israel with refueling tankers and missiles that might be used in a strike on Iran.

MILITARY OPTIONS REMAIN ON TABLE

Before taking the helm at the Pentagon, Hagel had stirred ire among pro-Israel Americans for remarks including skepticism about the feasibility and desirability of such military action.

But in Israel, the second foreign country he has visited as defense secretary after Afghanistan, Hagel hewed to Obama's line. “All military options and every option must remain on the table in dealing with Iran,” he said.

“I support the president's position on Iran. And it's very simple and I have stated it here … Our position is Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon – the prevention of Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Period.”

Iranian media reported on Monday that Iran and officials from the United Nations nuclear watchdog would hold a new round of talks on May 21 in Vienna. The International Atomic Energy Agency wants inspectors to restart a long-stalled investigation in Iran's suspected atomic bomb research.

From Israel, Hagel travels to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The latter two Gulf Arab countries, which are also wary of Iran's nuclear ambitions, stand to win a major U.S. arms sale.

After lengthy disagreement, Israeli and U.S. estimates of when Iran might be able to produce a first nuclear weapon now largely dovetail to a time frame of about a year.

Hagel also said that non-military pressure on Iran has yet to be exhausted. “The sanctions on Iran are as potent and deep and wide a set of international sanctions that we have ever seen on any country. And those will continue to increase,” he said.

“Whether it leads to an outcome that we desire remains to be seen … and as I said, the military option is always an option.”

After the news conference, Hagel boarded an Israeli military helicopter for an aerial tour of the Golan Heights frontier.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Defense chiefs Hagel and Yaalon to meet in Israel


U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will travel to Israel this month for a meeting with Moshe Yaalon, his Israeli counterpart.

Reuters on Tuesday quoted an unnamed Israeli defense official as naming April 21-23 as the dates for Hagel's Israel visit, and a Pentagon official confirmed to JTA that Hagel planned to travel to Israel “later this month.”

It will be Hagel's first trip to Israel since he assumed office in February after a bruising Senate confirmation battle in which senators besieged him with questions about his past comments critical of Israel, as well as his skepticism on the efficacy of a strike to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Israeli officials have since said they are familiar with Hagel from his days as a Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska and look forward to working with him. 

Hagel's visit comes in the wake of another round of inconclusive talks between Iran and the major world powers on Iran's nuclear program.

John Kerry at State: A disaster for Israel


President Obama’s decision to nominate Senator John Kerry as his next Secretary of State will prove to be a disaster for Israel.

The choice of the American Jewish establishment to vehemently protest the expected nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel while granting Kerry a free pass for his anti-Israel behavior follows their longtime pattern. Hagel is a Republican who has a history of marking foolish remarks regarding Israel and has long been seen as an independent thinker on Middle East policy with a non-interventionist outlook.

Kerry, however, is the much bigger problem for Israel.

Hagel as SecDef will be tasked with handling military issues. Kerry will be in a position to effect policy as it impacts Israel, set an overall tone for US in the Middle East and be a key player in  future negotations.

When it comes to criticizing Democrats who are hostile to Israel the Jewish elites have a history of weakness. From Jesse Jackson to Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama Democrats are treated with kid gloves and given the benefit of the doubt while pro-Israel Republicans are never given their due praise.

When Kerry ran for president he was vetted by the so-called pro-Israel community in the U.S. and little was made of his attitudes toward Israel because he had, for the most part, steered clear of controversy.

Kerry’s record since his presidential campaign tells a different tale. It was clear Kerry would not run for president again and his policy shift on Israel was ignored. What’s worse is Kerry’s attitudes on Israel are still being ignored by the pro-Israel community.

Even Kerry’s failure to sign the December 20, 2012 letter in support of continuing sanctions against Iran has not been a matter of concern for pro-Israel activists. And this even though 73 of Kerry’s fellow senators signed the letter

Kerry’s Israel problem goes back much farther than his troubling attitude towards Iranian sanctions.

When Kerry decided to take over for former President Jimmy Carter as the front man for Democratic criticism of Israel he enlisted the U.S.'s first Muslim member of Congress for help.

Kerry was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he stated on March 04, 2009 at a Brookings Institute address:

“nothing will do more to make clear our seriousness about turning the page than demonstrating – with actions rather than words – that we are serious about Israel freezing settlement activity in the West Bank For decades American presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, have opposed new settlement activity and recognized that the settlements are an obstacle to peace.. “

It should be apparent that when it comes to pressuring Israel on Israeli settlements John Kerry plans to pick up at Foggy Bottom where James Baker left off.

Kerry’s idea that the settlements are the main problem echoes the rhetoric of Yasser Arafat’s successors Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. In his March 2009 remarks Kerry even adopted the Arab view that Jerusalem is one of “the big three issues.” Jerusalem is no issue – it is Israel’s capital.

The view that Israel and the Palestinian Arabs equally share blame for the continuation of a decades old conflict is just  another part of Kerry’s troubling perspective.
While Kerry was on his February 2009 junket to the Middle East it was no mere coincidence that Rep. Keith Ellison was in Gaza at the same time. This was a coordinated effort by senior Democrats to demonstrate to Israel’s government that the pro-Israel attitude of the Bush Cheney years were over.

The Forward reported on April 10, 2009 that “…he (Ellison) presented the findings of his February 19 trip to Gaza at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The second-term congressman did not mince words when describing the hardship that Gaza residents are facing in the aftermath of the Israeli attack, or in addressing Israel directly on what actions ought to be taken to ease the suffering. “I come here with one message only,” he told the audience: “Open up the crossings, open up the crossings, open up the crossings.” Later in his speech, Ellison once again chose the triple-repetition technique when calling on Israel to “stop, stop, stop the settlement expansion.”

Kerry provided Ellison with the cover he needed for his verbal onslaught against Israeli settlements.

At the Democratic Convention in 2012 Kerry ignored the decision of his party leadership to remove Jerusalem from their platform and instead opened his podium speech by attacking Romney for his “neo-con advisors” and then proceeded to quote Benjamin Netanyahu out of context. [See this article and see the full speech here.

We all know what Kerry meant when he said “neo-cons” – it is code speak for pro-Zionists. Kerry’s words show that he will be hostile to the very existence  of Israeli towns in the suburbs of Jerusalem. Democrats consider these “settlements” to be part of the “Occupied West Bank” and he will label them as such.

John Kerry’s leadership at State will be the beginning of a new effort by the Obama Administration to pressure Israel to surrender territory to the Palestinian Authority, deny Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem, negotiate with Hamas and accept a hostile Palestinian State along its vulnerable borders.

Israel and its American supporters are in for a very tough time with Kerry and they seem to have no idea.


 

Moshe Phillips is the president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans For a Safe Israel / AFSI. The chapter's blog can be found at phillyafsi.blogtownhall.com and Moshe tweets at twitter.com/MoshePhillips. This column originally appeared on the American Thinker website on December 28, 2012: americanthinker.com/2012/12/john_kerry_at_state_a_disaster_for_israel