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We are worried over Hagel's nomination: Israeli leader

January 08, 2013 18:26 IST

The nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next United States secretary of defence was a 'cause for concern' for Israel, with a top leader saying, 'we are worried' because of the ex-Republican Senator's stance toward the Jewish nation.

"This concept of 'splendid isolation' which Hagel espouses changes US strategy in the world and accordingly it also affects Israel," parliamentary speaker Reuven Rivlin said, hours after President Barack Obama nominated 66-year-old Hagel for the key post to replace Leon Panetta.

"This outlook must give Israel cause for concern but not scare it," he said. "Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried," said Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party.

Describing Hagel's nomination as Obama's 'first course of the bitter meal' for Netanyahu, a leading Israeli columnist has said the American leader will now 'settle the score' for the prime minister's attempt to interfere in the US presidential elections in November.

"During the election campaign Obama kept a 'poker face' and did not respond to Netanyahu's blatant support for Republican candidate Romney. Now it is time to settle the score", Sever Plocker, a columnist for largest circulated daily Yediot Ahronoth said.

The nomination of the former Nebraska senator as next US Secretary of Defence last night sent jitters in political circles in Israel where many viewed it as a move that is 'unsympathetic or even hostile' towards Israel.

Rivlin, however, said the strategic partnership between the US and Israel is strong and 'one person doesn't determine policy'.

Plocker in his opinion piece says that the nomination does not mean that Obama's wish to 'punish' Netanyahu for intervening in the election race was a key factor in his decision to offer the Department of Defence to Hagel.

"This consideration was secondary, but it was significant enough to tip the scale", he stresses. Hagel as defence minister is the ultimate nightmare of the rightist government which, according to the polls, is expected to be established in Israel following the January elections.

In the numerous interviews he has given, Hagel is viewed by many in Israel as a conservative politician who is disgusted by what he views as the excessive influence of the American Jewish lobby.

Israelis think he also supports dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue, is against tightening the sanctions and is willing to extend a hand of reconciliation to Hamas.

In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, Hagel dismissed claims that he was soft on Iran.

Harinder Mishra in Jerusalem