Republican leaders unleashed a barrage of attacks on Barack Obama Monday for being a weak ally to Israel, seizing the opportunity to hit the president on foreign policy issues on the eve of this week’s big United Nations summit in New York City. The assault, which has primarily been orchestrated by Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign, centres around remarks Obama made during Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview, in which he referred to Israel as “one of our closest allies in the region,” and dismissed pressure from Israel about the Iranian nuclear threat as mere “noise.”
“The president last night made some comments that were very concerning as for our position on Middle East,” House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters on a press call organised by Mitt Romney’s campaign Monday. “The president indicated Israel was somehow one of our closest allies — that took me off guard because most Americans undoubtedly see Israel as our best ally in the region.”
“Israel continues to find itself on the receiving end of harsh language by the president in White House,” Cantor added, “I think, as Governor Romney has said before, there is a somewhat of a continued pattern of throwing Israel under the bus when Israel stands as our closest ally.”
Cantor’s criticisms were echoed in a series of campaign statements from prominent Republican surrogates, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuiliani, former New York Governor George Pataki, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
Obama also took a beating from conservative pundits, including talk radio firebrand Rush Limbaugh, who dissolved into mocking laughter after playing the clip of Obama’s comments on his syndicated radio show Monday.
The White House was forced to walk back the comments during a press briefing yesterday, and defend the president against charges that he had diminished the importance of Israel’s relationship with the U.S.
“I think you’ve heard the President say numerous times that Israel is our closest ally in the region,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters “We have an unshakeable bond with Israel. We have a commitment to Israel and to Israel’s security that is profound and unique.”
The flare-up over Israel comes at an inopportune moment for Obama, both politically and diplomatically. The president, who has so far led his opponent on foreign policy, has become increasingly vulnerable on those issues in the wake of this month’s U.S. embassy attacks. Moreover, international tensions over Israel and Iran are high this week in the lead-up to the U.N. summit.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad further inflamed those tensions Monday, telling reporters in New York that Israel is a “tumour” that will “be eliminated.”
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