On April 21st, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel began his week-long trip to the Middle East. His first stop was in Israel, where he fostered the “very special relationship” between our two nations, while also advising against unilateral military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. As if the trip was not already complicated enough, President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in Syria.
Mr. Hagel made it clear that he values the bond that we have with our ally. “I’m going to Israel first because it is a nation that has had a very special relationship with the United States. And it is a nation today in a very dangerous, combustible region of the world, that in many ways finds itself isolated…And it’s very important for the people of Israel to know that the United States is committed to their security and that special relationship,” he told reporters.
Several countries have come together to create economic sanctions on Iran that are designed to block the transfer of weapons and technology, and to target select sectors of the Iranian economy relevant to its proliferation activities. This is being done in a hope to force Iran into complying with its international nuclear obligations. “The current regimen of multilateral economic sanctions on Iran is among the toughest, most effective ever applied,” Mr. Hagel said. “We know through many measurements that those sanctions are hurting Iran — significantly.” Mr. Hagel also added that the weapons sales served as “another very clear signal to Iran.”
It is very important that both countries are on the same page. Hagel claimed that Israel and the United States equally understand the threat of Iran, but he also acknowledged that we do not necessarily agree on the timeline and whether international sanctions and diplomacy can prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, “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.” An important part of Hagel’s visit was to develop a strong relationship with his Israeli counterpart Moshe Yaalon. They seemed to have similar beliefs that the military option needs to be on the table, but saved as a last alternative. “By one way or another, the military nuclear project of Iran should be stopped,” Yaalon said. “Having said that, we believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort anyhow.”
Israel has a long list of threats from countries right outside its borders. Syria took much of the spotlight in an attack that many, including president Obama, consider a “game changer.” It is a problem that the world must answer and several analysts believe that lack of action in Syria will send a message to Iran. But during Hagel’s trip, Israel stayed on course about Iran. Yuval Steinitz, the minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations said, “We never asked, nor did we encourage, the United States to take military action in Syria…And we are not making any comparison or linkage with Iran, which is a completely different matter.” Explaining that these two situations are almost incomparable, Steinitz claimed that the situation in Syria would most likely stay in Syria, while Iran’s nuclear program threatened the entire world. Israel has been very inactive about Syria’s civil war. They are by no means a fan of Assad, but his family has kept the border with Israel quiet for the past 40 years. Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli politician and former military officer, told the Associated Press, “I wouldn’t rule out preparing a plan for Israel to act if the world continues to remain silent and the weapons continue to flow to Hezbollah. These are crazy people, terrorists who will not hesitate to use this tomorrow morning.” Unfortunately, Israel must fear who will take power in Syria if Assad is overthrown.
It was made clear by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Steinitz that Iran is still the number one problem of our generation. Mr. Steinitz acknowledged that recent visits from President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, is a testament to the support and cooperation that the two countries are displaying on the matter of Iran, but he made it understood that Israel needed to be able to handle the Iran threat on its own.