In Defense of Obama's Pick |

Former IDF Navy Chief: Chuck Hagel Is a Friend of Israel

Contrary to accusations, says Ze'ev Almog, Hagel opposed closing center serving U.S. troops in Haifa and backed $50 million grant to upgrade facilities at Haifa Port.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Contrary to popular perception, U.S. Secretary of Defense-designate Chuck Hagel is a friend of Israel, a former commander of the Israel Navy said on Tuesday.

Rear Admiral (ret.) Ze'ev Almog, a friend of Hagel's, objected to the campaign waged against the American's appointment by groups claiming to defend Israel's interests. Almog said he opposed efforts to persuade senators not to confirm the nominee.

"From my contacts with him, in Washington and in Israel, I can testify that Hagel was always attentive and friendly toward Israel," he said.

Almog, who commanded the navy from 1979 to 1985 and later managed Israel Shipyards, said there was no truth to the allegations regarding Hagel's tenure at the head of USO, an organization that provides entertainment and welfare services to U.S. troops. Hagel's opponents have said he worked to close the USO Center in Haifa, which served sailors from the U.S. Sixth Fleet when their ships were anchored in Haifa.

According to Almog, who was the first president of Friends of USO in Israel, the opposite is true: Hagel opposed closing the center in Haifa, despite the budget cuts that forced the USO to close facilities elsewhere, including in Europe. Moreover, after being elected to the Senate, Hagel threw his weight behind a $50 million grant to upgrade facilities in and around Haifa Port, including the runway at the air force's technical school, which was used by planes ferrying supplies to the Sixth Fleet.

Hagel and his colleagues ultimately got the grant approved by Congress in the late 1990s, Almog said, but Israel never used it due to opposition by the Transportation Ministry.

The USO facility in Haifa was finally closed in 2002, more than a decade after Hagel left his post as head of the organization.

Almog added that based on his conversations with Hagel, whether in the American's office in the Capitol or at a place they both enjoyed south of Herzliya, his impression is that Hagel has a fierce intelligence and a quick understanding. He's a man of independent opinions but is open to new ideas, Almog added.

And never, he said, did he hear Hagel say anything anti-Israel.

Almog remains in contact with Hagel to this day, sending letters in which he comments on Hagel's speeches and articles. He also receives greeting cards that begin "Dear Ze'ev and Geula" and end "Your friend, Chuck."

Hagel also has many supporters in the security and diplomatic communities in Washington. These include people who served as national security advisers under presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes and Obama: Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci and James Jones.

Also on the list of Hagel supporters are two former heads of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Anthony Zinni and Adm. William Fallon, as well as three former ambassadors to Israel: Sam Lewis, Thomas Pickering and Daniel Kurtzer.

Many of the people on this list joined Hagel last October in writing a report that questioned the benefits of a military operation against Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. President Barack Obama announcing Chuck Hagel for his pick for the position of defense secretary. Credit: Reuters
Ze'ev Almog.Credit: Moti Kimche

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