Last Updated: Thu Jan 19, 2012 15:41 pm (KSA) 12:41 pm (GMT)

Rick Santorum’s views on the Middle East

Ali Younes

In a town hall meeting during a recent campaign stop in Greenville, South Carolina, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said to me, in response to my questions, that he supports attacking Iran with missiles, rockets and other weapons in order to stop it from developing nuclear weapons. On the issue of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict he added that the issue is an internal Israeli matter and that Israel can do whatever it wants and no one should interfere in its internal affairs. Santorum does not hide his ultraconservative views when it comes to U.S foreign policy, especially when it concerns Iran and Israel. He in the same breath explained to the crowd why they should not elect a moderate – a reference to presidential candidate Mitt Romney – when they vote in the state’s primary later this week.

But the Republican presidential hopeful is not the only one among the Republican candidates who expressed outright support for U.S. military action against Iran to halt its nuclear program, or who is expressing extreme anti-Palestinian views that deny Palestinians any prospect of establishing their own state. The entire Republican field, with the exception of Ron Paul, has expressed in one way or another the same views regarding attacking Iran or expressing their opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Newt Gingrich went even further when he said last month that “the Palestinians are an invented people” thus denying their existence as citizens of a nation that deserve to be recognized as such. But as it turned out, he was not alone among the candidates harboring dark views against the Palestinians.

When I pressed Santorum further on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he maintained his stance that it’s up to Israel to decide the fate of the Palestinian people. Santorum, it’s worth mentioning, never once mentioned the Palestinians people by name during my conversation with him, and in fact he told me that “these people are there in the state of Israel and it’s up to Israel to decide.” I said to him that, according to his argument, the American people would be called British now if it was not for the war of Independence from Britain that eventually gave birth to a new nation called the United States of America. Santorum brushed that aside and reiterated his previous line that “these people are in Israel.”

His hawkish views on Iran, moreover, go hand in hand with the current environment in Conservative and Republican circles that consider Iran’s nuclear program a direct existential threat to Israel and to the United States. A New York Times editorial published last week titled “Dangerous Tension with Iran,” discussed the Iranian threats of closing the Strait of Hormuz and the Obama administration’s warning that if Iran closed the strait it would be forced to respond. The editorial continued, “No one should want to see Iran, with its contempt for international law, acquire a nuclear weapon. But a military strike on the nuclear facilities would be a disaster.”

For Santorum and other Republicans, preventing Iran from going nuclear is not only good for Israel and the United States, but also for Iran’s Arab neighbors. “If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will be dangerous first to its Sunni Muslim neighbors first, then to Americans here in Greenville,” said Santorum to the crowd gathered in Greenville.

The dangerous tension with Iran the New York Times editorial described is not just coming from the Obama Administration. Last week a mainly Republican congressional delegation visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, France and Turkey in order to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

A statement by Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, the Republican chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, who headed up the trip with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said that the trip was designed to coordinate with U.S. allies on the threat Iran poses to them all and to Israel and the U.S.

Ross-Lehtinen and Cantor, who are key supporters of Israel, said in an official statement during the trip that they intend to urge the Arab Gulf states to “stand by Israel, support its right to defend itself and press the Palestinian leadership so that a true lasting peace may be achieved.”

Palestinian-American columnist and radio talk show host Ray Hanania described Santorum’s anti-Palestinian rhetoric and the congressional visit to the region as an insult to the Arab world.

“Santorum’s anti-Palestinian statements and the visit by the pro-Israeli members of Congress to the Arab states are insulting and humiliating to the entire Arab world,” he said. “Exploiting the issue of Iran in demanding Arab countries to support Israel against the Palestinians is akin to acting like a thief in the night, instead of coming through the front door to address the solutions to the Middle East conflicts, they come through the window. Arab States, on the other hand, should use their leverage to press Cantor and others to hold Israel more accountable for their actions in the region.”

Ali Younes is a writer and political analyst based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at : aliyounes98@gmail.com

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