Hagel plans Israel visit to boost defence ties: ministry

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to visit the Jewish state in April to boost cooperation between the two countries, Israel's defence ministry said on Wednesday.

The plans were discussed during a telephone conversation between Hagel and new Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, who took up the position on Monday, a ministry statement said.

"Defence Secretary Hagel congratulated Minister Yaalon on his appointment as defence minister. Minister Yaalon also congratulated Defence Secretary Hagel on his new position, and on his intention to visit Israel next month."

The statement quoted Hagel as saying that he very much appreciated strategic and security relations between the two countries and hoped to strengthen the cooperation between their respective defence establishments.

Yaalon said there were "many shared challenges" in the region and that he looked forward to improving the defence ties between Israel and the United States.

"I am definitely looking forward to strengthening this relationship in light of the challenges facing us, and to strengthen the personal relationship between us," the statement quoted him as saying.

Hagel, a Republican former senator, has been criticised 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.