By Samuel Burke, CNN
Opponents of President Obama’s pick for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, characterize him as an enemy of Israel and a friend to Iran.
“That’s total and utter nonsense,” former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
Pinkas said Hagel’s statements and voting record suggest the exact opposite.
“I think that those going after his record are after President Obama rather than after Senator Hagel. And I think these attacks are vile, vicious, ugly and unfounded.”
Pinkas attributes the storm to a group of people who are unwilling to except Obama’s electoral win as president in 2012 and he believes that they are using the subject of Israel to garner media attention.
American conservatives have locked on to something. Hagel said in an interview seven years ago in a recorded conversation with Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for the U.S.
"The political reality is that you intimidate a lot - not you, but the Jewish lobby, intimidates a lot of people in there. And again, I've always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don't think it's in the interest of Israel."
"I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem," Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star.
Hagel’s position on Iran has also drawn fire because he has opposed some U.S. sanctions - urging negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
"I have not supported unilateral sanctions because when it is us alone they don't work and they just isolate the United States," Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star.
Iranian foreign policy expert Mohammad Ali Shabani told Amanpour that the animosity between Iranian and the U.S. governments is so deeply institutionalized the nominee for Secretary of Defense does not have much of an impact in practical terms. Though he said it might send a message “positive signal” to decision makers in Iran that the U.S. could be open to more dialogue.
When President Obama announced Hagel as the man to run America’s massive military machine on Monday, Obama cast him as a game-changer.
"Chuck Hagel's leadership of our military would be historic,” President Obama said. “He'd be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as secretary of defense. One of the few secretaries to be wounded in war. And the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department."
The president reached across the aisle to choose a Republican cabinet secretary, but this moderate Republican’s strongest foes are in his own party.
Shortly after being nominated, Hagel said he was astounded at how his record has been distorted and asked for a fair hearing in the Senate.