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Ehud Barak scurries to be first at Hagel’s door


“ASHKELON, Israel — It was a public display of affection even a hard-liner could love.
Standing in front of a rocket-busting Iron Dome battery paid for by American tax dollars, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak posed side-by-side for cameras in the middle of a hot and dusty farmer’s field just five miles from the Gaza border. Then they gushed.”
Intro to Foreign Policy article by Kevin Baron on Iron Dome, the Joint Strike Fighter, and other signs of America’s love for Israel. August 2012

Friend of Israel: Hagel’s first foreign visitor to be Ehud Barak

By Kevin Baron, Foreign Policy
March 01, 2013

Israeli Defense Minster Ehud Barak will be the first foreign defense chief to visit Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, during his visit to Washington next week for talks on Iran.

Barak will be in the building on Tuesday, a senior defense official tells the E-Ring.

“The secretary wanted to make sure that Minister Barak was one of the very first meetings he had after he took office,” said the official. “He’s delighted that Minister Barak was able to make time to visit the Pentagon.”

It is an unusually quick return visit for Barak, who visited the capital in December, and continues a flurry of U.S.-Israeli meetings in recent months. President Obama is scheduled to visit Israel in March, the White House has announced. According to the Jerusalem Post, next week Barak also has meetings planned with Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The visit also coincides with the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Barak will appear at the conference this weekend, taking the place of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who plans address the group via satellite. Biden also is scheduled to speak at AIPAC.

Hagel’s nomination faced early and frequent criticism from conservative Republicans, Democrats, and Jewish groups angry over Hagel’s prior complaints about the influence of “the Jewish lobby.” Many senators took that reference to be a criticism of groups like AIPAC, arguing Hagel was too “cozy” with Iran and less than a full friend to Israel, which made his appointment to the Pentagon risky. Hagel walked back his comments during his confirmation hearing in the Senate.

“I’ve always said I am a supporter of Israel,” Hagel said, in his hearing. “In some cases, I have said I’m a strong supporter of Israel. In some cases I’ve even written — and I think it’s in my book — that we have a special relationship with Israel. We always have had. So I’ve never voted in — against Israel ever in the 12 years I was in the Senate, whether it was military authorizations, additional supplemental appropriations. The record is very clear on that.”

Pentagon officials say the meeting continues to demonstrate that despite any political feelings between Washington and Jerusalem, the military-to-military relationship[see below]  between U.S. and Israel remains one of the strongest in the world. Hagel is expected to visit Israel early in his tenure, but not before Obama’s trip.

Barak announced last year he will retire from politics, though there is speculation that the former prime minister will not stay away long. His December visit to the Pentagon was believed to be his last in office. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta awarded Barak, at the time, the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.


Panetta Counts the Ways
Iron Dome, the Joint Strike Fighter, and other signs of America’s love for Israel.

By Kevin Baron, Foreign Policy,
August 01, 2012

Standing in front of a rocket-busting Iron Dome battery paid for by American tax dollars, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak posed side-by-side for cameras in the middle of a hot and dusty farmer’s field just five miles from the Gaza border. Then they gushed.

The “special relationship” Israel has with the U.S. military is stronger than it’s ever been, Barak claimed. “This is the strongest alliance that we have,” Panetta added, flirting with a Mitt Romney-esque gaffe that may reverberate in Great Britain.

Barak called him “my friend.” Panetta called him “Ehud.”

It was a starkly contrasting image from Romney’s rabbi-walk to the Western Wall this weekend. Romney, in Jerusalem speeches, overtly and implicitly claimed President Obama has not done enough for Israel’s defense and not used the military enough to pressure Iran. The White House, he claimed, had created “diplomatic distance” here, and he called for “further action” against Iran in Israel’s defense.

In reality, it is hard to imagine what else the United States could do to back Israel more strongly than it already has. Instead of specifics, Romney’s attacks were directed at the White House, ignoring the tight relationships between U.S. and Israeli senior military officers, and keeping his rhetoric at the 10,000 foot-level. At that level, though, Panetta and Barak are right about the candidate’s close ties.

Asked for his view on Romney’s characterizations, Barak invoked the old rule of not commenting on American candidate positions, but made his position clear. U.S. and Israeli militaries have grown stronger and closer over decades, no matter what the party colors of the U.S. president.

“We have a long tradition of friendship with America,” he said. “I have been exposed to it personally and I have seen it going deeper and deeper along the years” no matter which party ran the White House. “Of course, we expect it to be continued by the next administration,” he said, no matter who wins in November.

Panetta, for his part, said the proof is “backed not only by our words but by our deeds.” Iron Dome, he said, is but one example and “a game changer” for Israeli security because of its 80 percent success rate. Last month there were 12 rocket attacks in the area and the battery behind them knocked them all down, including five Grad rockets launched simultaneously from Gaza, according to Israeli Col. Zvika Haimovich, commander of all of Israel’s “active-defense” units like Iron Dome. Since last year, the systems have hit more than 100 rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Already, the United States allocated more than $200 million for the system in 2010, and the House-passed authorization bill includes $680 million for 2013. President Obama released an additional $70 million, which came from last month’s reprogrammed 2012 funds. It all comes on top of more than $3 billion in aid to Israel expected this year.

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