US Republican presidential candidates held another primary debate in Miami Wednesday, a session dominated by how to deal with Iran and its proxies.
Republican presidential candidates former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis led the third GOP debate with decisive plans against the Islamic Republic as all the runners were unanimous that Tehran is the head of the snake that is wreaking havoc across the Middle East and the world. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and entrepreneur-turned-politician Vivek Ramaswamy were also contenders.
Israel, the closest US ally in the Middle East, was invaded by Iran-backed Hamas militias on October 7, an operation cheered and cherished by Tehran that saw 1,400 mostly civilians slaughtered and over 240 taken to Gaza as hostages. Israel has been pounding the enclave to uproot the Islamist group, which has made the war exceedingly bloody hiding deep among the civilian population and underneath the coastal sliver’s non-military facilities. GOP hopefuls reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, but went further and vowed to address the issue at its core, the regime in Tehran.
Four of the five GOP presidential candidates in the debate voiced strong support for Israel in its war against Hamas, whose self-proclaimed goal is to wipe Israel off the map, with only Ramaswamy warning against the US being drawn into another war in the Middle East.
In response to a question about what he would tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he were president, DeSantis said, "I will tell Bibi to finish the job once and for all and destroy the butchers from Hamas." Haley said she too would not tell him anything other than to provide support to finish Hamas. “Finish them. Finish them... The last thing we need to do is tell Israel what to do," she said.
"There would be no Hamas without Iran; there would be no Hezbollah [Iran's Lebanese proxy] without Iran; no Houthis [in Yemen] without Iran; and there would not be Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq trying to hit US military men and women,” Haley said, noting that Iran is itself funded by the oil it sells to China and the drones and missiles it sells to Russia. “There is an unholy alliance.”
Answering a question on the US using military force against Iran, Haley said President Joe Biden "tiptoes" around Iran, stating that Iran will stop attacking US forces in the region only if the US uses force to prevent it. It is “unthinkable” that American forces are being hit by Iran-backed militias under Biden’s watch.
"This is Iran giving the green light... we need to go and take out their infrastructure” that enables the strikes. “Iran responds to strength, you punch them one and you punch them hard, and they will back off.”
Of around 40 attacks on US facilities since the war broke out in Gaza, the US has retaliated only twice. DeSantis also said Biden is not doing enough to protect US soldiers in the Middle East from Iranian attacks, stating that “You harm a hair on the head of an American service member and you are going to have hell to pay.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said to make sure Hamas, or any other Iran-backed militia group, would not threaten Israel and US forces in the region, Washington must work with its Arab allies in the region to further isolate Iran “so their only friends are the evil forces: China, Russia, and North Korea.”
Sen. Scott highlighted Israel’s “right and the responsibility” to wipe Hamas off the map, calling on Biden to be more aggressive in attacking Iranian assets. "We need to attack Iran, not just warehouses in Syria," Scott said, an apparent reference to the US airstrike on a facility controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups in eastern Syria hours before the debate started.
"We need to cut the head of the snake, and the head of the snake is Iran and not simply its proxies,” he said. “Diplomacy only is a weak strategy... You cannot negotiate with evil. You have to destroy it.”
The Republican runners competed with one another to debunk the “so-called Islamophobia” and spoke out aggressively about antisemitism, vowing to deport foreign students who support Hamas and cut any federal funding to universities that are tolerating antisemitism as it surges across the US. Jewish schools and synagogues have been forced to close as hate crimes against the Jewish community are worse than has been seen in recent history.
“Let me just say to every single university president in America, federal funding is a privilege not a right,” Scott said. “To all the students on visas who are encouraging Jewish genocide, I would deport you."
In a rare show of unity, the Republican presidential candidates all drew a hard line on Iran and issued stark warnings to the Islamic Republic, who has been warning of the conflict spiraling into a larger regional war since Israel launched its retaliatory offensive on Hamas. The GOP runners’ promise is the latest in a wave of calls for a military action against Iran, which is not shy about its support for anti-Israel and anti-US sentiments and actions across the Middle East and is counting the days until the destruction of Israel as prophesied by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.