The two-hour-long foreign policy debate between eight Republican presidential hopefuls at Constitution Hall in Washington - packed to capacity with local dignitaries and reporters, former officials and scholars - will probably be criticized by foreign policy experts on the things it didn’t focus enough on: the Arab spring, China, and seemingly deteriorating relations with Russia.
Israel, however, had no reasons to complain; it probably received more attention than its leaders would have wished for, especially concerning the discussion of a possible military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities that also touched upon the topic of alleged Israeli nuclear weapons.
Asked if in the event that Israel attacked Iran to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, would they help Israel launch the attack, or otherwise support it - former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain said, “I would first make sure that they had a credible plan for success, clarity of mission and clarity of success.”
“Remember, when you talk about attacking Iran, it is a very mountainous region. The latest reports say that there may be 40 different locations, and I would want to make sure that we had a good idea from intelligence sources where these are located. And if Israel had a credible plan, that it appeared as if they could succeed, I would support Israel, yes,” said Cain.
“And in some instances, dependent upon how strong the plan is, we would join with Israel for that, if it was clear what the mission was, and it was clear what the definition of victory was,” Cain added.
Congressman Ron Paul presented an opposing view on Iran: “I wouldn’t [support an attack on Iran]. I don’t expect it to happen, because, you know, the Mossad leader that just retired said it would be the stupidest thing to do in the world. And it’s a big argument over in Israel. They’re not about to do this.”
“They’ve just polled 40 major experts on foreign policy here by the National Journal. Not one of them said there should be a unilateral attack on the sites in Iran. So that’s not going to happen. And if you’re supposing that if it did, why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way,” Paul said.
“We interfere with them when they deal with their borders. When they want to have peace treaties, we tell them what they can do, because we buy their allegiance and they sacrifice their sovereignty to us. And then they decide they want to bomb something? That’s their business, but they should, you know, suffer the consequences,” Paul continued.
“Israel has 200, 300 nuclear missiles, and they can take care of themselves. We don’t even have a treaty with Israel. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel? So I think they’re quite capable of taking care of themselves,” Paul added.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s claim that the debate over the possibility of Israel attacking Iran was “because Iran has announced they plan to strike Israel,” invited some discussion.
Bachmann quoted the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying that “he wanted to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. He has said that if he has a nuclear weapon, he will use it to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth, he will use it against the United States of America.”
The next question went to the foreign aid to Africa. Nevertheless, the next candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, returned to the topic of Iran and Israel.
“We have a president who pursued an agenda of saying, we’re going to be friendly to our foes and we’re going to be disrespectful to our friends,” Romney said. “The right course in America is to stand up to Iran with crippling sanctions, indict Ahmadinejad for violating the Geneva - or the genocide convention, put in place the kind of crippling sanctions that stop their economy.”
“I know it’s going to make gasoline more expensive,” Romney added. “There’s no price which is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon. And the right course is to show that we care about Israel, that they are our friend; we’ll stick with them. If I’m president of the United States, my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said he’ll bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities “only as a last recourse, and only as a step towards replacing the regime. No bombing campaign which leaves the regime in charge is going to accomplish very much in the long run. You have to seriously talk about regime replacement, not just attacking them.”
Gingrich also disagreed with Paul’s approach, saying he’d “collaborate with the Israelis” on the conventional campaign against Iran, because “it will be an extraordinarily dangerous world if, out of a sense of being abandoned, they went nuclear and used multiple nuclear weapons on Iran. That would be a future none of us would want to live through.”
Former Governor of Utah Jon Huntsman accused U.S. President Barack Obama of “missing the Persian Spring,” and then going to Libya, where the U.S. doesn’t have any “definable interest.”
“We’ve got Syria now on the horizon, where we do have [an] American interest. It’s called Israel. We’re a friend and ally. They’re a friend and ally. We need to remind the world what it means to be a friend and ally of the United States,” said Huntsman.
“And we have nuclearization in Iran, centrifuges spinning. At some point they’re going to have enough in the way of fissile material out of which to make a weapon. That’s a certainty. Sanctions aren’t going to work, because the Chinese aren’t going to play ball. And the Russians aren’t going to play ball, and I believe the mullahs have already decided they want to go nuclear,” Huntsman continued.
“Why? They have looked at North Korea. They’ve got a weapon; nobody touches them. They look at Libya. Libya gave up their weapon in exchange for friendship with the world; look where they are,” Huntsman added. “Our interest in the Middle East is Israel. And our interest is to ensure that Iran does not go nuclear.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry said, “If we’re going to be serious about saving Israel, we better get serious about Syria and Iran, and we better get serious right now.”
Perry said that the U.S. needs to sanction the Iranian central bank. “What we need to do before we ever start having any conversations about a military strike, is to use every sanction that we have. And if you sanction the Iranian central bank, it will shut down that economy.”
Some arguments made by the candidates are quite disputable - for example, Perry’s claim that the sanctions against the Central bank of Iran will shut down its economy, or Romney’s assumption that “there’s no price worth an Iranian nuclear weapon”.
In Monday’s Republican voters’ focus group in Virginia, organized by The Israel Project, only two out of seven participants were ready to support U.S. sanctions that might harm the U.S. economy or raise gas prices, despite the fact that all of them perceived Iran as extremely dangerous and serious about its threats.
The Democrats were obviously expecting an attack on President Obama’s Iran policy, and in the past day and a half, they did their best to explain the effectiveness of the current measures in isolating and weakening Iran.
For more, go to Haaretz.com