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Chuck Hagel gives support to Jerusalem in Senate grilling

By David Usborne

Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator picked by President Barack Obama as his new Secretary of Defence, told his confirmation hearing yesterday that he was committed to defending Israel and stopping Iran from building an atomic bomb. "My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment," he said.

Mr Hagel's appointment had been criticised by many within his own party, who were quick to point out his lack of support for Israel in the past.

Speaking after his nomination was announced earlier this month, Lindsey Graham, a Republican Senator for South Carolina, said that Mr Hagel would be the "most antagonistic secretary of defence towards the state of Israel in our nation's history", while Knesset Speaker and Likud member Reuven Rivlin also admitted that Mr Hagel's stance towards Israel in the past had him "worried". But Mr Hagel used his appearance on Capitol Hill to stress his support for Israel, and to rebut claims that he would be soft on Tehran after voting against sanctions in the past. "When I voted against [sanctions] it was a different time," he said. "We were at a different place with Iran at that time"

In what at times was a rocky audition for the job, Mr Hagel insisted that he would stand ready to use the "full force of the US military" to defend America and its allies. However, he suffered a terse exchange with Senator John McCain who asked him why he had opposed the 2007 surge in Iraq. Mr Hagel is on the record saying at the time that it would be the "most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam". "I think history has already made a judgement â?¦and you were on the wrong side of history," Mr McCain said. During most of his 12 years as a Senator representing Nebraska, Mr Hagel was a close friend of Mr McCain's. That friendship was seen to have fallen apart, however, precisely because they took opposing positions on the 2007 surge.

Mr Hagel, who in spite of the rough ride may yet squeak through to replace Leon Panetta, insisted that his positions had been unfairly characterised.

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