December 11, 2023

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‘Finish them’: GOP candidates urge Israel escalation and US attacks on Iran

Shortly before the candidates took the stage for the third Republican primary debate in Miami on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that US fighter jets struck a weapons storage facility in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups, the latest sign of the tense security situation in the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Once the spotlights came on, the GOP candidates called for a further ratcheting up of military operations, urging Israel to annihilate Hamas and the US military to directly attack Iran.

Responding to a question about what advice she would give to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had two words: “Finish them.”

“I worked on this every day when I was at the United Nations” she said. “We have to remember they have to one, eliminate Hamas. Two, support Israel with whatever they need, whenever they need it. Three, make sure we bring our hostages home.”

She also called for direction US intervention against Iran, referencing recent attacks by Iranian proxies against American troops in Iraq and Syria.

“You punch them once and you punch them hard and they will back off,” she said.

She wasn’t the only one calling for a wider US campaign against Iran, which would mark a sharp departure from current operations, which tend to only be retaliatory and not inside Iran itself.

“If you wanna make a difference, you cannot just continue to have strikes on warehouses, yoou actually have to cut off the head of the snake,” South Carolina senator Tim Scott said. “The head of the snake is Iran and not simply their proxies.

“You cannot negotiate with evil; you have to destroy it,” he added.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis also referenced the recent US strikes, accusing the Biden administration of making servicemembers “sitting ducks.”

“As commander-in-chief, I am not going to put our troops in harm’s way unless you are willing to defend them with everyone you have,” he said. “Biden has ‘em out there. They are sitting ducks.”

“I would say you harm the har on the head of an American service member, and you are going to have hell to pay,” he continued, adding, “We are not going to sit there and let our service members be sitting ducks. That’s true whether it’s Iran or any country in the world.”

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said he would tell Israel to “smoke” Hamas.

“Israel has the right and the responsibility to defend itself. I would tell him to smoke the terrorists on his southern border,” he said. “I’ll be smoking terrorists on our southern border.”

The GOP comments come as the US has already sought to expand its footprint in the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict.

In recent weeks, the military has dispatched two carrier strike groups and a contingent of Air Force jets to the eastern Mediterranean Sea as Israel continues its fight with Hamas.

The US deployment is seen as an attempt to discourage regional actors like Iran and others from attempting to widen the conflict.

Joe Biden has also sought to provide Israel with over $14bn in additional military aid, though that ask remains tied up in Congress, as the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House can’t agree on an aid package.

The candidates also sparred over the proper US role in Ukraine.

2024 hopefuls like Chris Christie and Nikki Haley backed continued support for the country, which remains under invasion by Russia.

The former New Jersey governor slammed rivals for “absolutely giving in to dictators” and said US support is the price for being “leaders of the free world.”

“Dictators work together, people who believe in democracy work together,” he said. “We must stand with all of those that are standing up for democracy and freedom in this world.”

Others, like Mr Ramaswamy, called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky a “comedian in cargo parts,” brushing off Russia’s annexations of Ukrainian territory over the last decade.

“The regions of Ukraine that are occupied by Russia in the Donbas – Luhansk, Donetsk – these are Russian-speaking regions that have not even been part of Ukraine since 2014, that other people probably couldn’t name that province for you.”

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