Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will arrive in Washington Wednesday for discussions with high level officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on bi-lateral security issues.
The visit comes just days after U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary.
Many in the American Jewish community and in Israel have expressed concerns over Hagel’s record on Israel.
On Tuesday Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said,”Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried.”
According to reports in Israeli media, the Israeli government’s main concern is over Hagel’s stance on Iran. As a senator Hagel objected to sanctions being imposed on Iran and has also made statements in the past that voiced opposition to any military action against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Israel’s Walla news reported that Barak has a relationship with Hagel, though it was unclear what that relationship constituted or whether the two would meet during Barak’s visit.
According to an article in Maariv, American sources involved in Hagel’s appointment suggested that it could become a weapon against Netanyahu in the run-up to Israeli elections. “Hagel is anti-Bibi and anti-Likud, so his appointment could be damaging for Likud, but he has friendly and warm ties with Barak.”
Arik Elman, an Israeli political consultant and Algemeiner blogger said he doubted it would have any influence on the election. “I’m not at all certain this will in any way affect the campaign. The campaign here is developing according to its own internal logic.”
The article further states that the White House is worried that Netanyahu will work to sabotage Hagel’s confirmation and has reached out to major Jewish organizations hoping that they will brief Netanyahu. The White House has promised that Hagel is no loose cannon, and claims that he’s not anti-Israel and he will tow the Obama line according to the report.
The article says that, in fact, an AIPAC delegation is headed to Israel to discuss Obama’s appointments with Netanyahu. AIPAC has thus far declined to involve itself publicly in the debate over Hagel, citing its long-standing tradition of not involving itself in confirmation battles.
Barak’s office issued a statement Wednesday saying that “The minister will meet with senior officials in the administration as well as the heads of the defense and intelligence establishments,” but declined to comment further on his visit.
In a recent statement released by his office Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that he believes U.S.-Israeli security ties are “closer than ever” under President Obama, and “we have every confidence that those relations will continue to grow.”