While Secretary of State John Kerry was busy offending Americans and Israelis alike by comparing the Boston Marathon terror victims to the jihadists of the Gaza flotilla in Turkey on Sunday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made a more favorable impression on his hosts during a trip to Israel on Sunday and Monday.
Hagel confirmed Monday that the U.S. would sell advanced weaponry to Israel, including the vertical-takeoff V-22 Osprey and refueling aircraft. On Sunday, he appeared to confirm President Barack Obama’s new position, stated in March, that Israel has the right to defend itself pre-emptively against a nuclear Iran and may do so if it chooses.
The Jerusalem Post reported: “‘Iran presents a threat in its nuclear program and Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself and defend itself,’ Hagel told American reporters on his plane before touching down in Israel.”
According to the Times of Israel, Hagel also supported continued sanctions against Iran and a military option if necessary–“all options are on the table,” he said. Both represent reversals of Hagel’s own, earlier positions on Iran–a sign that he may, as some Democrats suggested during his contentious confirmation process, be following the policy lead of the administration he serves rather than imposing his own views.
There is still some apparent disagreement between the U.S. and Israel over whether and where to set a “red line” for Iran, beyond which military action will become necessary. But Hagel’s statements Sunday seem to indicate that, in principle, the U.S. would no longer oppose a pre-emptive Israeli strike–something the administration had resisted and even appeared to undermine actively during President Obama’s first term.
Hagel’s trip to Israel also included a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, where he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony. In addition to strengthening defense ties, one of Hagel’s quiet objectives is to undo some of the damage his past statements on Israel and the “Jewish lobby” had caused.