JERUSALEM — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to visit the Jewish state in April to boost cooperation between the two countries, Israel’s defense ministry said Wednesday.
“Minister (Moshe) Yaalon congratulated Defense Secretary Hagel on his appointment and on his intention to visit Israel next month” in a telephone conversation, the ministry said in a statement.
The statement quoted Hagel as saying that he “felt high about the security and strategic relations between the two countries” and wanted “strengthening of cooperation between the two defense systems.”
Yaalon also expressed a desire to boost Israeli-U.S. ties.
“I look forward to strengthening (security) relations between Israel and the United States in light of the common challenges that we face and to strengthen our personal relationship,” he was quoted as telling his U.S. counterpart.
Hagel, a Republican former senator, has been criticized by the Republicans back home for his past comments deriding a “Jewish lobby” in Washington. The blunt-talking Hagel is known for his fiercely independent streak and has also drawn fire for his opposition to some sanctions on Iran, which Israel and much of the West suspect is trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability.