President’s defense secretary nominee has worked closely with Israeli
counterparts; advocates a tougher stance on Iran
BY RON KAMPEAS December 9, 2014, 11:12 pm |The Times of Israel|
WASHINGTON (JTA) – Ashton Carter has championed the sale to Israel of stateoftheart
combat aircraft, has aligned himself with Iran hawks and was observed
becoming mistyeyed when serenaded by Israeli soldiers.
Carter, 60, President Obama’s secretary of defense nominee, has been depicted in the media as
the unChuck Hagel: Assertive and a bureaucratic infighter where Hagel, whose twoyear stint as
defense secretary ended this month with his forced resignation, was seen as passive and at times
at sea; and hawkish, where Hagel, a Vietnam vet who as a GOP senator was virtually alone in his
caucus in criticizing the Iraq War, was brought in by Obama to draw down US military involvement
Yet on Israel policy, Carter would represent more continuity than change should he be confirmed.
That is in part because, despite diplomatic tensions between the Obama and Netanyahu
governments, the security relationship remains as solid and ever — and also because Carter, until
last year a deputy defense secretary, is a loyal soldier to his boss’ agenda.
“Ash Carter is a very respected guy in Washington; he should have no trouble being confirmed,”
said Michael Makovsky, the CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, who served
as a senior defense official in the George W. Bush administration.
“He knows the building,” Makovsky said of Carter, using a Pentagon euphemism for an inside
Statements from Republican senators suggest that Carter, who is known for his ability to cut
costs and improve efficiency, may be a shooin.
Sen. Mark Kirk (RIll.) told JTA in an email: “I am hopeful that Ashton Carter’s expertise on
defense and military weaponry amid budget constraints, along with his deep understanding of the
culture at the Pentagon, will help the Administration to adopt a more coherent and effective longterm
strategy for combating the many threats faced by the United States and its allies.”
Kirk said the administration “is not doing enough to roll back Iran’s growing nuclear and terror
threats throughout the Middle East.”
Hagel, despite fierce opposition during his 201213 nomination process from proIsrael hawks,
leaves the defense post with warm kudos from his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, and from
the AntiDefamation League — one of the groups that had reservations about Hagel’s Israel
criticism during his Senate career.
His “contributions to Israel’s defense infrastructure and to Israeli relations with the United States
were great and very substantive,” Yaalon said of Hagel in a Hebrew tweet. The ADL said Hagel’s
“energetic stewardship” of the USIsrael relationship had been “vital.”
Hagel was pushed out over his inability to pierce the inner circle in the White House national
security team, and because his approach to drawing down troops was seen as no longer
appropriate given increased US involvement in conflict zones overseas.
Consistency on Pentagon cooperation with Israel is a given, whether or not the candidate, like
Carter, has proIsrael bona fides, said Anthony Cordesman, a strategy analyst at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies who has advised US governments on warfare.
“Virtually every administration has made close military ties with Israel a military priority,”
Cordesman said in an interview. “It is simply a fact of American political life.”
Still, those who know Carter say his record of understanding Israeli needs during stints as
undersecretary of defense for acquisitions from 2009 to 2011, and then as deputy secretary from
2011 to 2013, made him a choice pick from the proIsrael point of view.
Carter, trained as a physicist, demonstrated a keen, detailed understanding of Israel’s technical
needs, said Udi Shani, the directorgeneral of Israel’s defense ministry from 2010 to 2013.
“I found him very positive, very understanding of the needs of our country, our requirements for
security and developing the IDF and the Ministry of Defense,” Shani, now a consultant, said in an
Shani said one attribute made Carter an especially valuable interlocutor: He was honest and
would describe outright what reception the United States was likely to give an Israeli proposal.
“He had the transparency to say whether it was against their interests or for their interests,” Shani
Carter is well known for shepherding through Israel’s inclusion in the Joint Fight Striker program, a
collaborative venture by the United States and a number of allies to manufacture a stealth fighter
that is due for release this decade.
A colleague of Carter’s at the Pentagon, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the project, said Carter played a critical role in cutting through red tape to make sure
Israel’s demands for the aircraft were included.
“We would laugh about how we can’t make decisions quickly” because of the respective US and
Israeli bureaucracies, Shani said.
Shani and Carter became close friends, spending hours chatting over meals and on outings.
Carter, Shani said, became emotional during a visit to Yad Vashem, and enthusiastically received
an army choral performance.
“It was simple soldiers singing Hebrew songs,” Shani recalled. “He enjoyed it very much.”
Carter was part of a team that drafted an influential 2008 report,“Meeting the Challenge,” on Iran’s
nuclear capability. Many of the recommendations in the report, which was prepared for the
Bipartisan Policy Center, comport with current Obama administration policy, particularly in
emphasizing the need for maintaining an international coalition in dealing with Iran.
Other recommendations, however, are closer to what is now the position of the Israeli government
and Republicans in Congress: not allowing Iran any uranium enrichment capacity whatsoever.
Obama administration officials have said that should nuclear talks now underway between Iran
and the major powers arrive at a deal, Iran would likely remain with a minimal enrichment
Makovsky led the writing of the Bipartisan Policy Center report and is critical of the talks. He said
that Carter, while fairly described as “tough” on Iran, would most likely hew to the administration
policy that has evolved since the launch of the talks.
Cordesman agreed, saying, “There’s a difference in talking in theory and dealing with actual