Former Sen. Chuck Hagel
Former Sen. Chuck HagelReuters

A U.S. Senate committee approved on Tuesday the nomination of ex-Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be President Barack Obama's secretary of defense, BBC News reports.

The full Senate is expected to take up the nomination this week, though Republican critics have threatened to block a vote.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 14 to 11 with one non-vote to approve Hagel, AFP reported.

Hagel's critics say they are worried by his past remarks and voting record on Israel, Iran and other issues.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, along with countless others, has cited a long list of Hagel’s anti-Israel policies, asserting that his nomination would “be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.”

Hagel recently claimed that there is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel."

"I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem," he said.

During his confirmation hearing at the Senate at the end of January, Hagel faced fire from Republicans over his past anti-Israel remarks and his attitude towards Iran. These included past comments he made that there’s no justification for Israel to "keep Palestinians caged up like animals."

In written responses he submitted ahead of his confirmation hearing, Hagel had indicated he would be willing to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, if such an attack is required.

Hagel said that the United States would maintain an "unshakeable" commitment to Israel's security and voiced support for Obama's position that no options should be taken off the table to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“If confirmed, I will focus intently on ensuring that (the) U.S. military is in fact prepared for any contingency,” Hagel wrote.

“If Iran continues to flout its international obligations, it should continue to face severe and growing consequences,” he added. “While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing. Iran needs to demonstrate it is prepared to negotiate seriously.”

A newly surfaced video which was posted to YouTube on Sunday shows Hagel as having expressed in 2008 more concern over Israel's nuclear weapons than Iran's and advocating that the U.S. engage with Iran and Syria.