The Washington Times - January 12, 2013, 02:06PM

Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, stepping down this year as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Saturday she has deep concerns about former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, citing in particular his views on Israel and Iran.

“I think Chuck Hagel has a difficult time understanding that Israel is our ally,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview with Fox News.

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She said Mr. Hagel’s past statements on Israel and the Middle East appeared to underestimate the threat Iran posed to Israel, America’s chief ally in the region, and to U.S. interests more generally.

“I worry about the vision President Obama has for our Department of Defense if he thinks that Chuck Hagel is the best person” to lead the Pentagon, the 19-term lawmaker from Miami said, urging the Senate to give the nominee a thorough vetting.

President Obama this week nominated Mr. Hagel to succeed retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The nomination has met with flak from both the left and the right for the former Nebraska senator’s past remarks on such issues as Israel and gay rights. Among other things, critics points to comments by Mr. Hagel opposing some sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programs and criticizing the power of what he called the “Jewish lobby” on Capitol Hill.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American, also has criticized past votes by Mr. Hagel that she said offered “a lifeline” to the Castro regime in Havana.