By Jeremy Herb
The Republican presidential candidates Tuesday seized on differences over Iran between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama, accusing the president of failing to stand with Israel in fiery speeches to AIPAC, the pro-Israel Jewish lobby.
The candidates blasted Obama for his administration’s warnings about a potential Israeli attack on Iran to stop its nuclear program, and both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney said there would be no gap between their administrations and Israel.
Santorum decided to address the AIPAC crowd in person on what is known as Super Tuesday, while Romney and Newt Gingrich are set to give speeches via satellite.
Santorum said that the Obama and Netanyahu AIPAC speeches show “tragic disconnect” between how they view the threat from Iran.
“[Obama] says he has Israel’s back, but from everything I’ve seen on the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel,” Santorum said. Santorum said that Obama needed to put an ultimatum in place for Iran to stop its nuclear program.
“We need to put an ultimatum in place, and then we need to be prepared if that ultimatum is not met, to engage with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel in an effort to make sure that if they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear down them ourselves,” Santorum said.
Romney accused Obama of “naïve outreach” to Iran that has given Tehran time to develop its nuclear program.
Romney said that the Obama administration’s “clear message has been to warn Israel to consider the costs of military action against Iran,” adding there would be no gap between Israel and a Romney administration.
“I do not believe that we should be issuing public warnings that create distance between the United States and Israel,” Romney said in an address via satellite. “Israel does not need public lectures about how to weigh decisions of war and peace. It needs our support.”
Romney said that “hope” is not a foreign policy, and will reiterate that he is willing to use force to stop Iran.
“The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve, backed by our power and our readiness to use it,” Romney said.
Romney also took a swipe at Obama for not visiting Israel as president, a point that some critics have raised to question the president’s commitment to Israel.
“As president, my first foreign trip will not be to Cairo or Riyadh or Ankara — it will be to Jerusalem,” Romney said.
Romney said he will station multiple aircraft carriers and warships on Iran’s doorsteps, which would include a carrier in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea.
Gingrich, also speaking via satellite, said that on his first day as president he would sign an executive order to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, to signal that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel.
Gingrich told the AIPAC conference that the Obama administration needs a “fundamental reassessment” of the threat of radical Islam, and that a nuclear Iran risks the “annihilation of an entire people.”
“There’s something profoundly wrong with our entire approach to the region and our entire strategy of dealing with radical Islam,” Gingrich said.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who spoke ahead of the presidential candidates Monday morning, defended the president and accused Republicans of using Israel as a political wedge.
“We do a disservice to the security of our nation and Israel if we succumb to those who would use Israel to divide us for partisan gain,” Levin said.
—This story was updated at 11:14 a.m.