Hagel likely nominee as defense secretary, sources say

WASHINGTON (JTA) – President Obama likely will nominate Chuck Hagel as defense secretary early next week, according to sources.

Multiple sources in the national security and foreign policy communities, including two close to Hagel, confirmed reports Friday by NBC, Foreign Policy and Newsweek that Obama was poised to name Hagel to the post as early as next week.

White House officials have told the media that it would be premature to confirm such a decision.

Hagel’s front-runner status as the replacement for Leon Panetta has stirred controversy in recent weeks.

A Republican senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2008, Hagel has described the pro-Israel lobby as intimidating and said he resisted its overtures because he was a senator for the United States and not for Israel.  

He also has expressed reservations about a military strike on Iran and called for some level of engagement with groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, sparking concern among some centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups.

JTA has confirmed that American Jewish Committee chapters are writing to U.S. senators urging them to press Obama to name someone else to the post, noting particularly Hagel’s postures on Iran and terrorist groups, but also his resistance to joining in letters and non-binding resolutions favored by Jewish and pro-Israel groups.

Hagel has called such non-binding initiatives "stupid."

"Based on Hagel’s record, we have been expressing concerns about the possibility of his nomination and questions that should be explored by the Senate if he is, indeed, to be nominated," Ken Bandler, AJC’s spokesman, told JTA in an email.

A number of senators from both parties have expressed reservations about confirming Hagel.

Other Jewish groups have defended Hagel, noting his consistent record in voting for assistance to Israel and his defense of the security relationship with Israel. The groups also note that despite his reservations, Hagel voted to sanction Iran and isolate terrorist groups.

J Street, one of these groups, has distributed to congressional offices a "myths and facts" sheet on Hagel noting his support for a number of Israel and Jewish-friendly bills and initiatives.

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