Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense two years ago was met with considerable angst on the part of many friends of Israel. His resignation today was met with regret, especially at the Israeli Defense Ministry.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon called him "a true friend of Israel" who made "large and significant" contributions to the two nations' security ties.
That's a far cry from the initial response to nomination of the maverick former Republican senator from Nebraska.
Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said at the time that his "sentiments" "border on anti-Semitism." The Wall Street Journal's Brett Stevens said the nomination was proof that "Mr. Obama is not a friend of Israel."
Hagel's sins? He was not a staunch Likudnik and had referred to AIPAC as "the Jewish lobby," which was offensive to some, although that is the same term Israelis refer to it as: "ha lobby Yehudi." What's more, he accused it of "intimidating a lot of people" in Congress (I can vouch for the accuracy of that) and having the temerity to say, "I am a United States senator, not an Israeli senator." That's something I've also heard from at least one Jewish senator.
Hagel's former Senate colleague, John McCain (R-Arizona) said he is leaving because he was "frustrated" with "excessive micro-management by the White House." His two predecessors at the Pentagon, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, reportedly left for similar reasons.
"This is bad for Israel because he was the only one we could talk to comfortably in this administration and would seriously consider our positions. We can't talk to the President, (National Security Advisor Susan) Rice or (Secretary of State John) Kerry. Obama and Kerry are not friendly toward Israel," said Prof. Dan Schueftan of Haifa University.
Ya'alon said “Over the last two years the relationship between Chuck Hagel and myself has been open, genuine and very friendly, and characterizes the special relationship between the Israeli and American security establishments.”
The two men struck a close friendship, and relations between the Pentagon and the Israeli Defense Ministry reached new heights, especially at a time when Ya'alon's attacks on Secretary of State John Kerry were causing him problems at Foggy Bottom and the White House.
Ya'alon described that relationship as “deep and intimate, and unprecedented in its scope and contribution to Israel's security and strength.”
“Chuck Hagel and the American security establishment that served under him were an example of this link through their uncompromising support, the exchange of intelligence and knowledge, and in the extensive and quality military aid the US gives Israel,” Ya'alon said. He thanked Hagel “in the name of the Israeli government and the country's citizens” for his contribution to strengthening Israel and for a “ willingness to help at any time."
"At the end, Hagel proved wrong those right wing zealots who opposed his nomination," said a former Washington-based Israeli reporter told me.