(Reuters) -Most U.S. presidential contenders have thrown their support behind Israel over the surprise attack by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas while Republican frontrunner Donald Trump accused Israel of being unprepared.
Here is what the candidates have said:
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
President Joe Biden, a Democrat seeking a second term in the November 2024 election, said U.S. support for Israel remained “rock solid.” He said Israel had a right to defend itself and called the Hamas attack “an act of sheer evil.”
His administration pushed back against Republican criticism of a deal with Iran by which five detained U.S. citizens were allowed to leave that country in exchange for the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds for humanitarian-related purposes.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said that “these funds have absolutely nothing to do with the horrific attacks” and added that this was “not the time to spread disinformation.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iran has not yet been able to spend a single dollar of the funds that were unfrozen in a U.S.-Iran prisoner swap in September.
Former U.S. President Trump drew criticism from Israel and the White House after he accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not being prepared for the attack and for calling the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group “very smart”.
Trump has touted his own record supporting Israel and blamed Biden for the assault, the worst breach in Israel’s defenses since Arab armies waged war in 1973.
“Joe Biden betrayed Israel,” Trump said at a campaign event in the early primary voting state of New Hampshire on Monday.
In a statement Trump falsely stated that “American taxpayer dollars helped fund these attacks.” The $6 billion was Iranian money that had been frozen in South Korean banks. It was earmarked for humanitarian needs and has yet to be spent by Iran.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a distant second to Trump in national polls for the Republican nomination, also assailed Biden over the attack.
“Israel, with the full support of the United States, should kill Hamas members and extinguish their entire infrastructure,” DeSantis said on social media site X, formerly Twitter
Speaking at a campaign event in Iowa, DeSantis pushed back on the fact the funds had yet to be transferred to Iran. “You take Biden’s $6 billion to plug that hole and you can free up other money for terrorism.”
DeSantis also condemned Trump for criticizing Israel and praising Hezbollah. “It is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel, much less praise Hezbollah,” DeSantis wrote on X.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a Republican foreign policy hawk, urged Netanyahu to “finish them” in an apparent reference to Hamas. “They should have hell to pay for what they’ve just done.” She described the attack on Israel as an attack on America. She also condemned the Iran deal.
Biotech entrepreneur and Republican contender Vivek Ramaswamy, who has faced criticism by supporters of Israel for previously suggesting a phase-out of aid after 2028, criticized what he called “barbaric and medieval Hamas attacks.”
But he criticized Haley for saying the Hamas attack was an attack on America, and warned against the risk of a broader war in the Middle East.
Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a long-shot Republican presidential candidate who has made support for Ukraine against Russia a plank of his campaign, took aim at some of his Republican rivals, including Trump, suggesting that their more isolationist positions on the war in Ukraine had signaled a weaker United States on the world stage.
“This is what happens when we have leading voices like Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ron DeSantis signaling retreat from America’s role as leader of the free world,” he said on CNN.
Pence also called for U.S. special forces to “be prepared to mobilize” with the Israeli military to rescue American hostages. “Hamas gives ‘em up, or we go get ‘em,” Pence wrote on X.
Like Pence, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said in a speech on Tuesday that the U.S. should be prepared to send special forces into Gaza to rescue American hostages there.
Scott has joined fellow Republican presidential contenders in criticizing Biden, tweeting that “America’s weakness is blood in the water for bad actors.”
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR
Robert F. Kennedy Jr, an environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist who is running for the White House as a long-shot independent, condemned the “barbaric attacks.”
“We must provide Israel with whatever it needs to defend itself – now,” he tweeted.
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Tim Reid. Additional reporting by James Oliphant, Costas Pitas and Nathan Layne; Editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller)