Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is expected to be confirmed on Tuesday by the U.S. Senate as President Barack Obama’s next secretary of defense. His has been a particularly rough road to confirmation, thanks to opposition from parts of the pro-Israel lobby and by right-wing groups.
Over the weekend, even as Republican foes like Sen. John McCain said they were resigned to Hagel's confirmation, more accusations emerged from the right side of the aisle. On Saturday an item posted in Israel National News claimed that Hagel would send U.S. peacekeeping troops into the West Bank (called Judea and Samaria by the Israeli right wing). On Sunday, a similar piece from columnist and political commentator Joel Pollack on the conservative Breitbart.com alleged that Hagel’s ideas were already leeching into Obama’s Middle East policies.
“Hagel is the only person alive now dumb enough to deploy U.S. ‘peacekeeping’ troops to what is surely a ‘West Bank’ deathtrap,” wrote Mark Langfan, a New York-based lawyer and proclaimed advocate for Israel. “Can anyone imagine the depraved analysis Hagel has been spewing while, at this very moment, he is currently the co-chair of Obama’s President’s Intelligence Advisory Board?” In the West Bank, U.S. troops would be exposed to suicide bombers and “intifada-style attacks,” a point Langfan argued in a 1995 article against sending U.S. troops into the Golan Heights. And in the case of any provocation from one side and retaliation from the other, U.S. troops would surely be caught in the middle.
As evidence, Langfan cites a report released in April 2009, co-signed by Hagel and nine others, titled “A Last Chance For A Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement: A Bipartisan Statement on U.S. Middle East Peacekeeping.” The report was sponsored by the U.S./Middle East Project, a New York-based non-profit, bipartisan organization with a pro-Palestinian slant. Hagel is a member of its board of directors.
In the report, the authors, including Hagel, declare “invalid” the argument that “peace cannot be imposed by the USA or any outside party,” an argument that is commonly put forward at the U.N. by Israeli diplomats. “For the U.S. to avoid effective facilitation and mediation is to cede the field to America’s enemies who are counting on the Arab-Israeli dispute as the gift that keeps on giving,” the report said. The authors go on to outline four major steps that they believe will facilitate the peace process. One of these includes demilitarizing the Palestinian territories, and sending in “a U.S.-led multinational force to ensure a peaceful transitional security period.”
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But a 2010 report by NATO refutes the idea that a U.S. or a NATO presence in the West Bank would do any good. “The worst and more probable case scenario … is often discarded from the discussion because it is assumed that a preceding peace agreement would effectively exclude it,” the report said, meaning that everyone is currently ignoring the fact that a derailment of the already-tenuous peace process would mean disaster for any troops on the ground. “A realistic NATO mission would have to be prepared for both scenarios (and everything that is in-between) or it is doomed to fail.”
Another step in the peace process outlined by Hagel’s 2009 report includes encouraging Israeli-Syrian relations. This report was released about two years before Syria descended into civil war, when Bashar al-Assad's rule was unchallenged, but Israel-Syrian relations have been nonexistent since Israel was founded: the two countries have fought four major wars since 1948, and in 1967 Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria. Israel offered to return the Heights if Syria would recognize Israel, which it never did. Since then, the Heights have remained a key part of Israel’s military strategy.
In the report, the authors acknowledge the incompatibility of Syria’s desire to have returned “all territory lost to Israel in June 1967,” and Israel’s desire to not return said territory. This report’s solution would be to demilitarize the Golan Heights and install “multinational forces featuring American leadership.”
“Hagel’s call for U.S. troops to be deployed to the future border between Israel and a new Palestinian state contrasts sharply with his general reluctance to deploy troops abroad, and his repeated insistence on the limits of U.S. military power,” Pollack wrote.