Las Vegas, Oct. 19 - Support for Israel and tough talk about Iran united the Republican presidential primary candidates on Tuesday at their ninth debate which was marked by sharp personal exchanges on domestic policy.
Even as the GOP field was largely divided and often testy on domestic issues like immigration and the economy, the CNN Western Republican Presidential Debate highlighted the candidates’ strong pro-Israel stances and vows to stop Iran from acquiring and using nuclear weapons.
The issue of Israel came up during a discussion of the future of American foreign aid amid a tight economy. Yet most candidates said that continuing American aid to Israel, a close ally, was essential.
“If we clarify who our friends are, clarify who our enemies are, and stop giving money to our enemies, then we ought to continue to give money to our friends, like Israel,” former business executive Herman Cain said in response to a question.
“We should not be cutting foreign aid to Israel,” Rep. Michelle Bachmann said. “Israel is our greatest ally.”
The debate was the latest in a series ahead of the Republican caucuses and primaries which begin in January to pick the party’s nominee to face President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, considered one of the stronger contenders for the nomination, raised the issue of U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority as they bypass real negotiations in favor of seeking full United Nations membership – a drive currently stymied because of lack of support in the Security Council.
“When you think about the Palestinian Authority circumventing those Oslo Accords and going to New York to try to create the conflict and to have themselves approved as a state without going through the proper channels is a travesty,” Perry said, referring to the 1993 agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that laid the groundwork for negotiations.
The news last week of a foiled Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. and blow up the Israeli embassy in Washington also figured into the debate. The disclosure underscored the urgency of standing up to Iran, the candidates said.
“The president of Iran is a genocidal maniac. We need to stand up against Iran,” Rep. Michelle Bachmann said.
On Monday, a focus group of likely Republican primary voters in the Las Vegas area conducted by Dr. Frank Luntz and sponsored by The Israel Project confirmed widespread support among the electorate in key states for Israel.