Israeli officials and Jewish leaders are praising President-elect George W. Bush's top pick for secretary of defense, former Republican senator Daniel Coats of Indiana, as an outspoken friend of Israel and an aggressive proponent of the Israeli-US bilateral relationship, said a report by The Jerusalem Post.
According to the paper, Bush met with Coats, currently a lawyer at a Washington law firm, on Monday. Aides were quoted as saying that the president-elect could formally announce his nominee for secretary of defense as early as Wednesday.
The secretary of defense serves alongside the president's national security adviser and secretary of state as a key figure on foreign policy issues. All arms sales must be approved by the Pentagon, making the secretary of defense a crucial figure in Israeli-US ties, said the daily.
"Whatever agreement will emerge from the peace process, when it comes to the implementation, if Israel needs equipment, it is approved by the Pentagon," said an Israeli military official in Washington. "Programs like the Arrow anti-missile missile are all in the secretary of defense's hands."
According to the paper, the leading pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, was full of praise for Coats, who served in the House of Representatives from 1981-1988 before he was appointed to the Senate in December 1988 to fill a vacancy caused by the election of Indiana senator Dan Quayle as vice president. Coats served in the Senate until 1998, when he did not seek a third term.
"He clearly has a great deal of sympathy for Israel," said one senior AIPAC official. "He understands it both in the strategic and the emotional sense."
Hart Hasten, a prominent Jewish businessman in Indianapolis who hosted several fundraisers for Coats, described the potential nominee as a "real sincere, genuine friend of Israel. I can tell you that from first-hand knowledge. He really knows the subject and understands the Middle East very well," Hasten was quoted as saying.
Coats, 57, who served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and in the US Army from 1966-1968, is well-versed in military issues and is a strong supporter of a national missile defense program, a linchpin of Bush's campaign, said the report.
Vice President-elect Richard Cheney, who is coordinating Bush's transition effort, is said to be backing Coats's nomination while Bush's nominee for secretary of state, Colin Powell, reportedly preferred an earlier candidate with less military experience, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Several former aides to Coats are employed by the Bush transition team.
Coats has an amazingly strong pro-Israel record. The report said Coats is regarded as a committed internationalist who consistently voted for foreign aid during his time in Congress. He signed onto a litany of pro-Israel initiatives and holds hawkish views on the peace process.
In a 1991 speech to the Israel Bonds organization, laden with references to the Nazi genocide, Coats described Israel as a "miracle," and the "most reliable" US ally in the Middle East. He said "Support of Israel must remain the focus of American politics in the region.
"For years Israel has been urged to trade land for peace - to sacrifice the tangible for the unlikely," Coats said. "I am convinced we must start at a different, earlier point. We must urge Arab nations to begin by trading peace for peace - to end a permanent state of war with Israel. Before all else, we must hear from Arab mouths words that could change everything: 'Israel has a right to exist.' "
On domestic issues, Coats was considered a friend of the Jewish community in the Senate, said the Jerusalem Post. At the request of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, he cosponsored a bill that would have made special accommodations for religious people in the workplace, including Sabbath-observing Jews.
The paper added that Coats is a friend of the defeated Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman. On a flight to visit US troops in the Arabian Gulf a decade ago, Lieberman and Coats, seated adjacent to each other, reached into their bags simultaneously, and pulled out Bibles. The two senators then carried out a religious discussion and later became partners on interfaith issues.
Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew and Coats is a devout Protestant, according to the daily.
While his pro-Israel voting record may cause alarm among some Arab leaders should he be nominated, Hussein Ibish, director of communications for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said it was premature to see how different appointments would affect a Bush foreign policy. "I'm not alarmed by the idea of Dan Coats becoming secretary of defense," Ibish said – Albawaba.com
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