US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to visit the Jewish state in April to boost cooperation between the two countries, Israel's defense ministry said on 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, as reported by the AFP news agency.
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 further improve relations between the two countries.
"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 American counterpart.
The former senator from Nebraska, who won the endorsement of the senate in a vote of 58-41 to replace former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, has gained a reputation within the pro-Israel community for his highly negative stance on the Jewish state.
The defense secretary’s numerous anti-Jewish and anti-Israel comments include him claiming that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people" in Congress into “doing dumb things”; that the Jewish state is keeping the “Palestinians caged up like animals”; that Israel has kept the Palestinian people “chained down for many, many years”; and that the US State Department is controlled by the Israeli Foreign Minister’s office.
He has further come under fire for his feeble position on military action against Iran, his willingness to open direct talks with Hamas, his opposition to declaring Hizbullah a terrorist organization, as well as a long list of other highly provocative issues and associations.
Former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak met with Hagel at the beginning of March in a meeting that was described as “warm.”
"Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel's security, including maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge and continued US support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement following the meeting.