Israeli focus on Syria gives Hagel respite on Iran

April 23, 2013 • World News

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, center, is welcomed by Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir, center left, as he arrives at the residence of Saudi Crown Prince, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Jim Watson, Pool)

JERUSALEM (AP) — On Chuck Hagel’s inaugural visit to Israel as U.S. defense secretary, Syria surpassed Iran as the security threat of greatest urgency to the U.S.’ closest Mideast ally. That quite unexpectedly gave the new Pentagon chief a temporary respite from the delicate duty of tempering Israeli warnings about attacking Iran to stop it from building a nuclear bomb.

Israeli leaders see Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat to their country’s very existence, given Tehran’s vow to wipe it off the map. But Syria suddenly has emerged so prominently that it overshadowed Iran during Hagel’s three days in Israel.

That explains, in part, why Hagel repeatedly stressed in public Israel’s right to defend itself and to decide on its own, if necessary, whether and when to attack Iran. He gave less emphasis than usual by American officials to Washington’s wish that diplomacy and sanctions be given more time to persuade Iran to change course.

Notably, Israel’s new defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said at a joint news conference with Hagel on Monday that he, too, thinks Login to read more

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