(Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidates offered full-throated support for Israel to defend itself and lambasted President Joe Biden’s policies in the Middle East.
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Former President Donald Trump said that if he were reelected president he’d take a forceful tack, vowing to retaliate with great force to enemy attacks.
“If you spill a drop of American blood, we spill a gallon of yours,” Trump said at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Summit in Las Vegas on Saturday. “Joe Biden’s weakness caused the attack on Israel. His weakness provokes more death because as history shows evil only expects one thing: unyielding strength.”
The gathering drew together the top contenders for the GOP nomination as Israel’s war with Hamas has thrust foreign policy back into the campaign spotlight. It also became the campaign stop where former Vice President Mike Pence announced he was dropping out of the race.
The Republican candidates have sought to assail Biden, claiming his policies emboldened Iran — a backer of Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lambasted Biden’s approach to Iran, calling for tougher sanctions on Tehran to prevent its proxies in the region from widening the conflict.
“I tell Joe Biden: stop playing footsie with Iran,” DeSantis said. “Get tough on Iran, turn the screws on Iran, don’t give up oil revenues.”
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley shared a similar sentiment: “I’m glad Joe Biden is saying some of the right things. But his actions haven’t always matched his words. If you stand with Israel, you don’t cozy up to Iran.”
Iran’s proxies have launched a spate of drone and rocket attacks on US troops in the region, for which the US said it would hold Tehran accountable. US forces have responded with strikes on two facilities in eastern Syria they believe were used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups.
Read more: US Military Attacks Two Syrian Facilities It Says Linked to Iran
Despite the criticism from Republicans, the president’s public support of Israel, including a wartime visit to the country to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and condemnation of a rise in antisemitism and hate crimes have earned him the praise of American Jewish community leaders.
TJ Ducklo, a spokesperson for Biden’s 2024 campaign, said in a statement ahead of Trump’s remarks that the former president was dangerous and unfit to lead, adding that Trump “undermined our national security and embarrassed our nation on the world stage.”
The Republican candidates have also sparred with each other in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks, with Trump’s rivals pouncing on remarks he made criticizing Netanyahu and praising Hezbollah, a militant group in Lebanon.
Trump has sought to move past the controversy, highlighting his policies in office and saying he “fought for Israel like no president before.” He’s also vowed to deny entry to immigrants and travelers from Gaza and crack down on pro-Palestine demonstrations if he returned to the White House.
Read more: Nikki Haley’s Foreign Policy Savvy Props Up Her Long-Shot Bid
Ann Rubinfeld, who traveled to the Nevada event from Los Angeles, said the conflict in the Middle East was top of mind for her and said she believed Trump’s response to supporting Israel was the most comprehensive.
“His policies, as far as Israel’s concerned, is higher than most. Nobody stands out. Just Trump,” Rubinfeld said.
Biden has pushed for humanitarian aid for Gaza, which Israel has been hitting with retaliatory air strikes, d said the US has taken safeguards to ensure that assistance is not co-opted by Hamas. DeSantis and Haley have said humanitarian assistance to Hamas-controlled Gaza will only end up bolstering the militant group.
Read more: Israel Warns of ‘Long’ War as Invasion of Gaza Strip Begins
Aid for Israel’s defenses and for humanitarian purposes is one of the most pressing issues facing Congress in the coming weeks — in addition to government funding that’s set to run out in mid-November. Biden is seeking $106 billion in emergency spending for Israel, Ukraine, other national security priorities and for border security.
New GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson, though, has said the House will consider Israel aid, which has broad bipartisan support, separately from Ukraine funding, which is opposed by a small but crucial bloc of Republican hardliners.
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