By Meghashyam Mali - 04/21/13 12:09 PM EDT
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday said that the U.S. and Israel see “exactly the same” threat from Iran, as he used his first visit to Israel as Pentagon chief to strengthen ties and coordinate efforts to prevent a nuclear Tehran.
Hagel said there was “no daylight at all” on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, but he acknowledged there was a split over the timeline for Iran’s nuclear program, according to reports.
President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have clashed over how much time is left to prevent a nuclear- armed Iran, with the Israelis believing that the program is much closer to weapons capability.
The White House has pressed for continuing sanctions and talks in hopes of convincing Iran to peacefully halt development of nuclear weapons, but has repeatedly said that all options, including military force, are on the table.
Hagel reiterated that stance, emphasizing Israel’s right to defend itself and the availability of military force if talks fail.
“Israel will make the decision that Israel must make to protect itself, to defend itself,” said Hagel.
“In dealing with Iran, every option must be on the table,” he added.
Hagel’s visit to Israel also comes after a contentious confirmation hearing where many GOP senators opposed his nomination arguing that he would weaken U.S. ties with Israel and criticizing him over past statements about the Jewish state.
Hagel dismissed those criticisms, telling reporters that the confirmation hearing was “years ago.”
Hagel is expected to also push a new arms deal worth $10 billion which would help preserve Israel’s military edge in the region, while also providing new weapons for other U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Hagel said the arms deal would be “another very clear signal to Iran” that U.S. allies in the region were prepared to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Hagel's trip also includes stops in Jordan, Saudi Arabia Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, where he will press Arab nations on preventing the spread of violence form the Syrian civil war.
“In each country we will be seeking to strengthen and reinforce the relationships,” a Pentagon official said about the trip during a briefing on Friday.
Secretary of State John Kerry is also visiting Turkey and other nations in the region this week.