What a run for Chuck Hagel this weekend in the Middle East.
In the following week, he's visiting Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, but arguably his most pressing mission is to mend ties with a dubious Israel. Hagel's blistering confirmation process left a few in doubt about his intent.
Talking to reporters on Sunday, Hagel made sure that Israel knew it was in control of its own military destiny:
“Iran presents a threat in its nuclear program and Israel will make the decisions that Israel must make to protect itself and defend itself.”
In the run-up to the U.S. Presidential Election there was a flurry of speculation about whether Israel would wait until after the elections to wage a military strike on Iran. The general consensus was that American leaders would prefer if they did wait (and they did wait, though after the election they launched quite an offensive ... on Gaza).
Later Hagel would say , "every sovereign nation has the right to defend itself and protect itself" in reference to potential Israeli strikes on Iran.
In regards to the possibility of preemptive U.S. military action against Iran — something that Hagel had discouraged during his legislative career — he said, " I’ve also said over the years one consistent thing: that all military options, and every option, must remain on the table in dealing with Iran."
Here was his only hedge, in that regard:
“When you back down into the specifics of the timing of when and if Iran decides to pursue a nuclear weapon, there may well be some differences."
"We are committed to providing Israel with whatever support is necessary for Israel to maintain military superiority over any state or coalition of states and non-state actors," Hagel said.
The arms deals come on the heels of an allocation of $220 million to bolster the Israeli "Iron Dome" missile defense system — the first time in history Congress made appropriations requests specifically for the Iron Dome.
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