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Commentary: Hagel and the Israeli lobby

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Jan. 4, 2013 at 8:32 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The vicious campaign to smear Chuck Hagel with an anti-Israel brush and deter U.S. President Barack Obama from nominating him to become the next defense secretary got rolling over year-end holidays.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee relied on the "neocons" and the right wing of the Republican Party to fire the first salvos by raising questions about Hagel's commitment to Israel's security.

The counterattack came fast and furious. Hundreds and then thousands of email messages and tweets followed by the heavy artillery of op-eds by the media commentariat. AIPAC had underestimated the scale of Hagel's media support.

The Jewish lobby countered with bigger guns. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, questioned Hagel's credentials for the job of defense secretary.

This would indeed be a far cry from Israel's apogee at the U.S. Defense Department when an Israeli defense official once told his U.S. counterpart at the Pentagon, "Your job is to ship the goods and ours is to deliver Congress."

The angry U.S. general involved in the exchange wrote after he retired that the items requested were on a strictly prohibited for export list.

The New York Times' Tom Friedman, who is Jewish, wrote that it's the "Jewish" lobby for Israel that is challenging Hagel, which he calls "disgusting."

Hagel clearly has a huge following.

He is chairman of the Atlantic Council;

co-chairman of the president's Intelligence Board;

a member of the defense secretary's Policy Board;

a member of PBS' Board of Directors;

a distinguished professor in the Practice of National Governance at Georgetown University;

Hagel also racked up a lifetime rating of 84 percent from the American Conservative Union.

He was the first Republican to win a U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska in 24 years. In 2002 he won re-election to the Senate for a second term with 83 percent of the vote, the largest victory in any statewide race in Nebraska history.

In 1967-68, U.S. army sergeant at 21, infantry squad leader in the 9th Infantry Division, Hagel, wounded twice, received two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Hagel went public with a taboo subject when he said the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill, and then added: "I am not an Israeli senator. I'm a U.S. senator."

He was never afraid to speak his mind. In November 2007, he rated the George W. Bush administration "the lowest in capacity, in capability, in consensus -- almost in every area of any presidency in the last 40 years."

In his 2008 book "America: Our Next Chapter -- Tough Questions, Straight Answers," Hagel wrote the U.S. should adopt independent leadership and possibly another political party."

Even though he was for the Iraq War at the beginning, he later described it as "one of the five biggest blunders in U.S. history."

Harvard Professor Stephen Walt wrote in Foreign Policy "the real meaning of the Hagel affair is what it says about the climate inside Washington. Simply put, the question is whether supine and reflexive support for all things Israeli remains a prerequisite for important policy decisions here in the Land of the Free."

Known by this reporter for the past two decades, Hagel has always been supportive of Israel and the U.S. commitment to defend it. But he has been highly critical of Israel's growing settlements in the West Bank, which he said is tantamount to annexation, making a Palestinian state impossible.

In September 1982, as Hagel resigned as deputy administrator for Veterans Affairs over his chief's budget cutting proposals, Israel invaded Lebanon to chase out Palestinian guerrillas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In Beirut, at first Israeli soldiers were greeted enthusiastically by the populace. Then disaster struck.

Israeli units had surrounded two Palestinian refugee camps known as Sabra and Shatila. Israeli flares illuminated the camps while Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia systematically slaughtered several hundred refugees (numbers vary from 800 to 3,500).

A U.N. commission pinned the blame on the Israelis for their failure to stop the killing. In 1983, an Israeli commission concluded the Israeli military knew what was going on and stood idly by.

Hagel has always supported the state of Israel and the U.S. commitment to defend it. His criticism has come over what he and many others deem to be the excesses of military occupation.

Hagel is also firmly against any bombing of Iran by the Israeli air force. But there he is not alone as three former Israeli intelligence chiefs -- Mossad, Shin Bet and the military -- who retired in 2011 have said such an action would be a tragic mistake.

Three former U.S. CENTCOM commanders who had the entire Middle East in their theater of operations concurred.

The Hagel controversy is all about Israel and the far-right Likud party agenda -- and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's barely concealed hostility toward U.S. President Barack Obama and contempt for Hagel.

The AIPAC-orchestrated campaign via its neo-conservative yeomanry is now the hot favorite among odds-makers. But then there is the unknown among unknowns -- and the unknown unknowns

It is still AIPAC vs. Obama and the odds-on favorite? AIPAC.

Surrounded by a two-year civil war in Syria, an Islamist dictatorship in Egypt, a bitter enemy in Gaza, and an increasingly shaky monarchy in Jordan, deciding what's best for Israel will be done in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Israel's economy is thriving in a global economic meltdown. The Jewish state's 2009-12 economic growth of 14.7 percent leads all the advanced countries of the world, followed by Australia with 10.7; Canada 4.8; United States 3.2; Germany 2.7; France 0.3; European Union minus 1.5 percent.

Undeterred by Israel's dangerous geographic neighborhood, 2.9 million tourists came to Israel in 2012 -- a 100,000 increase over 2011.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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