Israeli Knesset (parliament) Speaker Reuven Rivlin said Tuesday the incoming U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel‘s "declared isolationism" portends a worrying "strategic change" in the country’s military policy.
"The concern is not only Israel’s and not only connected to (Hagel’s) personal positions regarding Israel," Rivlin said in a statement sent to Xinhua.
In a statement issued Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama said Hagel’s nomination is "historic," and that he is "the leader our troops deserve."
In a bid to calm Israeli concerns, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the Yediot Aharonot daily Tuesday that "I have met (Hagel) many times, and he certainly regards Israel as a true and natural U.S. ally."
According to Rivlin, "Hagel’s appointment doesn’t only affect Israel, but also the international strategic balance of power," echoing some American critics who have assailed the incoming defense secretary’s potential stance.
Domestic critics contend that Hagel would sharply cut military expenditures and boost relations with Iran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said they hoped Hagel’s installation would lead to a "positive" change in the relationship between Teheran and Washington.
Hagel’s Republican and Democratic critics have also pointed to his hostile remarks and attitudes toward both Israel and relations with Jewish organizations during his tenure as a senator in his home state of Nebraska.
"The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people," Hagel said in an interview in 2006, adding that "I’ve always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel," according to the Times of Israel.
Referring to Hagel’s stance on Iran, Rivlin said "This attitude should worry, but not scare, Israel," adding that "It’s important that Israel knows how to cope with (such a policy) and be capable of elucidating the significance of the threats facing the global village."
Rivlin said that "It’s impossible to detach the security of the United States from the security and stability of the Middle East, and the threat Iran also poses to the United States."
Hagel, speaking on Monday with Nebraska’s Lincoln Journal Star newspaper, said that "I have said many times that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism," arguing that he previously opposed to unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran "because when it is us alone they don’t work and just isolate the United States."