defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel
defense secretary nominee Chuck HagelReuters

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who has been named to lead the new Middle East and North Africa subcommittee after stepping down as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Saturday she has deep concerns about former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community regarding Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran, Ros-Lehtinen told Fox News that she thinks “Chuck Hagel has a difficult time understanding that Israel is our ally."

Hagel's past statements on Israel and the Middle East appear to underestimate the threat Iran continues to pose to the Jewish state, America's chief ally in the region, she said.

"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, she added, urging the Senate to give the nominee a thorough vetting prior to his potential confirmation.

In a move that was met with strong opposition from the Jewish community, President Obama this week nominated Hagel to succeed retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Jewish groups, together with gay rights groups, have been forcefully opposing the nomination, citing the former Nebraska senator's past remarks, which have proven worrisome to both minority communities.

Among numerous other issues, critics have pointed to Hagel’s opposition to sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programs and statements regarding the power of what he called the "Jewish lobby" on Capitol Hill.

In addition to Hagel’s comments affecting the Jewish community, he had voted against extending basic employment nondiscrimination protections and the federal hate-crimes law to cover gay Americans. He also opposed former President Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel to be the ambassador to Luxembourg, calling him “openly, aggressively gay.”

Furthermore, it has recently emerged that the Atlantic Council, a think tank chaired by the controversial nominee, predicted that a “post-mullah” Iran that could emerge by 2030, would be reason for Iran to “be viewed as a potential natural partner” for the United States.

In a December policy paper titled “Envisioning 2030: U.S. Strategy for a Post-Western World,” the think tank asserts that a “post-mullah dominated government shedding Shia [Muslim] ideology could easily return to being a net contributor to stability by 2030.”