WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul suggested that the US should have less involvement in Israel's affairs.
"I think they're quite capable of taking care of themselves," he said during a two-hour long foreign policy debate between eight Republican presidential hopefuls at Constitution Hall in Washington overnight Wednesday (Israel time).
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The comment came in response to a question about whether the Republican candidates would, if elected president, back Israel in a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Paul said that in the event of an Israeli strike, "Why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way."
The United States sends roughly $3 billion to Israel in military aid every year.
If Israel were to conduct such an attack, "that's their business, but they should suffer the consequences," Paul continued. He added that Israel has hundreds of nuclear missiles, so "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.
Addressing the possibility of an attack on Iran, the candidate said "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.”
Businessman Herman Cain, on his part, said he would help Israel in such an attack "if the mission and the plan were clear."
"If Israel had a credible plan that it appeared as if they could succeed, I would support Israel, yes," he said. "And in some instances, depending 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 said, however, that coming up with a credible plan would be unlikely because Iran "is a very mountainous region" and it's unclear where its nuclear sites are located.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann quoted 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.” She attacked President Barack Obama, saying he had given Iran two and a half years to operate.
Gingrich, speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1990s, said that ending gasoline sales to Iran and sabotaging its refineries would lead to the collapse of the Iranian government and end its nuclear ambitions.
He said he would bomb Iran only as a last resort and with a goal of bringing about the downfall of the government.
'Obama unfriendly to Israel'
This was the second debate in less than two weeks to focus on foreign affairs in a race otherwise dominated by domestic issues. Republicans see the weak U.S. economy as President Barack Obama's biggest vulnerability.
The debate came six weeks before the first nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses. Candidates were looking to build or - for Gingrich and fellow front-runner Mitt Romney - sustain momentum.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said during the debate that Obama had been unfriendly to Israel.
"The right course for Israel is to care about Israel," he said. "My first foreign trip will be to Israel to show we care about them."
Romney said sanctions on Iran, which were stepped up this week by Obama, should be still tougher even if it crippled Iran’s oil industry.
“I know it’s going to make gasoline more expensive,” he said. “There’s no price that is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry called to impose sanctions the Iranian central bank, claiming such a move "will shut down that economy. ... This president refuses to do that, and it's another show of lack of leadership from the president of the United States."
AP, Reuters contributed to the report