Israel attacks spark outrage from GOP presidential candidates

This weekend, Republican presidential candidates have been reacting to the attacks on Israel, outlining their views of America’s role on the global stage — and criticizing President Biden’s approach.

Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested Biden’s administration “empowered” Iran after it agreed to allow $6 billion in Iranian assets to be unfrozen for specific purposes in exchange for five American hostages. He said the U.S. should hold Iran accountable for its financial backing of Hamas, the ruling militant group in the Gaza strip that carried out the deadly attack.

“If I were president for when Biden has been, Iran wouldn’t be in the position where they are where they’re causing such havoc,” he told reporters on Saturday during a bus tour in Iowa. DeSantis also suggested Biden should show a full-throated support of Israel in using lethal force to “root out Hamas once and for all.”

“It’s not enough to just launch a strike, when you’re dealing with Hamas you need to uproot the entire terror network,” he said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday, adding that Israel has “failed” to do so because, he said, “they get a lot of international pressure, not just from the United Nations but the Europeans.”

But the Iranian funds, which had been held in South Korea and were transferred to Qatar and were part of the exchange for five Americans detained in Iran, may only be used for humanitarian purposes, and the Treasury Department says it will monitor the account closely.

Those funds have not fully been transferred to the Iranian government, undercutting the argument by DeSantis and other GOP candidates that the agreement was a catalyst for the violence in Israel. Those funds will remain in restricted accounts in Qatar, according to a State Department spokesperson.

DeSantis repeatedly pushed back on that assertion on the trail, saying the money is “fungible.” “You can say certain funds can’t be used, but you can use other funds that may be freed up as a result,” he told reporters in Bloomfield, Iowa, on Saturday.

On Saturday evening in Fort Madison, Iowa, he criticized Biden for not being up early enough in the day to respond to the attacks.

“If Israel is being attacked, I would want to be woken up and engaged in that,” he told voters.

While most Republican candidates said America should show support for Israel’s response, including using lethal force, the question of whether aid should be sent is to be determined.

DeSantis, who equated the strike on Israel to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said Israel has a “very robust military capability” when asked how much aid he’d like to see be sent to Israel.

“What Israel does with [the aid] is it compliments what they do for themselves, they don’t expect the United States to do this stuff for them,” he told reporters in Bloomfield, Iowa.

Some Iowa Republicans at DeSantis events voiced concern with how the U.S. can balance financially supporting foreign countries and handling its own domestic issues. Since 1979, the United States has been providing Israel with billions in military aid annually, with a pledge of $3.8 billion a year since 2016.

“How is our president that we have now going to help Israel, keep Ukraine going, take care of our border and leave us to dry?” a voter asked DeSantis during an event in Keosauqua, Iow on Saturday.

“I’m just disappointed that our government that we have right now is going to add more aid, and take money away from priorities we have in the United States,” said Mike Mackey, a Republican voter choosing between DeSantis and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. “If we go spending money in Ukraine and all these countries, we’re leaving our people behind.”

“We can’t be helping them and Ukraine and all of the illegal immigrants too at the same time. It’s a double edged sword,” said Larry White, who attended DeSantis’ Sunday event in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and is choosing between DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump was also on the campaign trail in Iowa just hours after the attacks in Israel unfolded, where he attributed the attacks to “perceived weakness” from the United States.

“I would not be at all surprised if part of that tremendous wealth that they just accumulated went into all of a sudden watching this level of aggression. They didn’t have that level of aggression with me,” Trump said during remarks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The former president also vowed to cut off funding Palestinian terrorists “on day one.”

During his presidency, Trump changed the location of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a controversial move that broke with decades of tradition. Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city is split into two separate entities — East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. Trump said the action was in the “best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians” at the time.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also echoed DeSantis’ “fungible” remarks on the trail in New Hampshire Saturday.

“If you’re somebody who had just gotten $6 billion, even if that’s reserved for purposes that you were otherwise allocating your own dollars, you can still use those dollars for other uses,” Ramaswamy told reporters Saturday night in Keene, in reference to the Iran prisoner deal.

Ramaswamy did not answer whether he would send U.S. troops to Israel if they were requested by the Israeli government, and criticized Mr. Biden for not meeting face-to-face with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ramaswamy has been criticized for his views on Israel in the past after he told podcast host Russell Brand that Israel will no longer need U.S. financial support by 2028 as a result of strengthening partnerships in the Middle East.

He later reversed that standpoint, telling media outlet Israel Hayom that he would not cut support to Israel until Israel tells the U.S. to do so.

Former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley attacked Ramaswamy for his positions on Israel during the first GOP presidential primary debate.

“He wants to hand Ukraine to Russia. He wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel,” Haley said.” You want to go and defund Israel…You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.”

Ramaswamy fired back that the U.S. “relationship with Israel would never be stronger than by the end of my first term.”

Mike Pence

In Glenwood, Iowa, on Saturday, former Vice President Mike Pence called on Mr. Biden to assure Israel the U.S. will send military support and aid, according to the Des Moines Register.

Despite the focus on strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship during the Trump-Pence administration, Pence on Saturday slammed Trump and others in comments related to the attacks in Israel.

Pence pointed to “voices of appeasement like Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis that I believe have run contrary to the tradition in our party that America is the leader of the free world” as a reason for the deadly Hamas attack.

“This is also what happens when you have leaders in the Republican Party signaling retreat on the world stage,” Pence said. In response, DeSantis called Pence’s comment “hollow criticism.”

Chris Christie

Like many of his opponents, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went after Mr. Biden for his handling of the Iran detainee deal, but also mentioned that both parties need to stop playing politics and help Israel.

“The president should ask the Congress to come back into session Monday and vote for whatever aid Israel needs to make sure that they win this war and win it completely and quickly,” Christie said Saturday night on Fox News. But even if the president did so, because there is no elected speaker of the House, it is not entirely clear that Congress could provide any new aid to Israel through an appropriation.

Nikki Haley

Haley went on Fox News late Saturday and sent a message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling him to “finish them” after the Hamas attack.

“Finish them. Finish them. They should have hell to pay for what they’ve just done,” Haley said.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Haley on Sunday also took issue with the $6 billion in oil revenues. “To think that they’re not moving money around is irresponsible,” Haley said. “They hate Israel. They hate America. They are going to continue to use this. It was wrong to release the $6 billion.”

Tim Scott

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott showed support for providing Israel with whatever assistance it needs and called on the U.S. to “mobilize” the U.S. Navy’s “Sixth Fleet” in Europe.

“The next thing I would do is make sure that the IDF would have our full support and we would back them and be ready and willing to provide resources and weaponry in this war, as Netanyahu has called it,” Scott said in an interview with Fox News on Saturday.

In a social media post, Scott wrote on Sunday, “Biden’s weakness invited the attack. Biden’s negotiation funded the attack,” and suggested Mr. Biden “is complicit.” Scott’s comments were immediately panned by Democrats.

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