Newly minted U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel faced stiff opposition during his confirmation process, mostly due to allegations that he was "hostile to Israel," or at least not enthusiastic enough to be an adequate representative of American interests in the Middle East. (Some critics accused him of outright anti-Semitism.) Hagel finally managed to garner just enough support in the Senate to get the job, and now is attempting to prove to all the naysayers that no, really, he is pro-Israel. Just look at that “vigorous backslapping” embrace, as CNN’s Barbara Starr tweeted, that he and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak shared yesterday when Hagel hosted Barak at the Pentagon.
Yesterday’s visit was Hagel’s first meeting with a foreign counterpart since taking office, the Department of Defense said. The two discussed the civil war in Syria and the nuclear showdown with Iran over coffee and danishes. “Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel’s security, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and continued U.S. support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints,” the official statement read. Hagel also specifically “reiterated” the U.S. commitment to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, “with all options on the table,” echoing words Barak himself said on Sunday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference.
“Secretary Hagel noted the two have had an outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister. … Secretary Hagel expressed his desire to visit Israel soon and Minister Barak stated that Israel looks forward to hosting him in the near future," the statement continued.
Barak is due to leave office as soon as a new Israeli government is formed. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Israel and several other Middle East countries soon.