A poignant and personal perspective framed Chuck Hagel’s visit to Israel. Hagel, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, before his meetings with the president and prime minister, before discussions about Syria and Iran, initiated his mission by again experiencing Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
This time he emphasized how essential it is to both remember past generations and to impart their lessons to future generations. Which is why Hagel said, “I particularly wanted my son to come to Yad Vashem,” as his son, by his side, was immersed in the masterful museum’s echoing atmosphere.
Then it was on to talks about security. In welcoming the secretary of defense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “In the last four years, we’ve greatly enhanced the defense and security relationship between Israel and the United States, and I am absolutely confident that we continue to further strengthen this under your stewardship of the American defense establishment. This is important because we face many challenges, as you well know, and I look forward to discussing with you how we overcome these challenges in our continued cooperation.
“Israel appreciates deeply, the support, the military and security support that it enjoys from the United States – it reflects a very deep alliance between our two countries and the defense of our common interests and our common values.
“Nowhere are these values and interests challenged more than by the arming of terrorist groups by Iran with sophisticated weapons, and equally, Iran’s attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons. This is a challenge that Israel cannot accept, and as you and President Obama have repeatedly said, Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. In any case, it is good to have you in Jerusalem. It is good to have the support, friendship and alliance of the United States. We deeply appreciate it.”
Though it was Hagel’s first visit as defense secretary, he noted that he has visited Israel many times before. “My first trip was in the late 1980s when I was president of the USO, and I’ve always appreciate this country, the people, the leadership and the courage that you represent and what has been produced in Israel. It is a model for the world, and the relationship between our two countries, just as you have noted, is as strong as it’s ever been, not only measured by the military-to-military, all the other metrics that apply to relationships, but as you also noted, Prime Minister, it is based on common values and respect for others, and that is the foundation of any relationship.
“You noted that the region is not getting any less complicated. This is a difficult and dangerous time. This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever. I’m committed to continue to strengthen this relationship, secure this relationship, and as you know, one of the main reasons I’m here is to do that … I believe together, working with our allies and our friends, we will be able to do what is right for your country, my country, and make this region a better region and a more secure region, and make Israel more secure.”
Earlier, Hagel met with Israeli president Shimon Peres who said, “Your visit sends a message that you’re determined not to let Iran become nuclear.” He added, “I have the full trust in your position, your seriousness because we understand that Iran is not just a threat to Israel but to the whole world. Your visit is a message to Iran not to do it, that Iran has a choice. If it can be achieved by diplomatic means then that is better but if diplomacy won’t be enough then all options are on the table. Nobody threatens Iran and so why did they choose to become a threat to others… We can prevent the Iranians from making a catastrophe for their own sake and for the rest of the world.”
Hagel responded by saying “You have framed the realities of the world that we live in. You’ve done more than that you’ve described the reasons for much of this chaos and turmoil and it’s now up to the world of today to take that reality and shape something out of it.”