US-Israel drill cancellation causes flap at GOP debate

Jewish Democrats lambaste Gingrich, praise Obama’s record.

January 25, 2012 03:00
2 minute read.
Republicans Gingrich and Romney debate

Gingrich and Romney debate 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – Democratic Jewish groups slammed Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich Monday night for blaming US President Barack Obama for canceling a joint US-Israel military exercise when in fact the decision was Israel’s.

Asked about the possibility that Iran would close the Straits of Hormuz during the most recent GOP debate, Gingrich referenced Obama and said, “The Iranians are practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz, practically taunting us, so he cancels a military exercise with the Israelis so as not to be provocative.”

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Gingrich described it as “the most dangerous possible thing,” adding that, “There’s a very grave danger that the Iranians think that in fact this president is so weak, they could close the Straits of Hormuz and not suffer substantial consequences.”

Soon after the debate, which was held in Tampa, Florida a week before the state goes to vote in the first sizable primary of the Republican nomination process, Jewish Democrats sent out e-mails lambasting Gingrich for misstating what happened.

“Once again in tonight’s Florida GOP debate, former speaker Newt Gingrich has simply fabricated recent events surrounding the USIsrael relationship while discussing the postponement of a planned joint military exercise between our two countries – all in a deeply unfortunate ploy to smear President Barack Obama’s outstanding pro-Israel record,” National Jewish Democratic Council President David Harris said in a statement. “Enough is enough.”

The joint military exercise was to have been the largest ever undertaken between the two countries but was canceled at the behest of Israel.

Reports have suggested that US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agreed to the decision but worried it would be interpreted on the part of Iran as a sign of weakness, and an agreement was reached to reschedule the drill for later in the year.

Obama advocates also pushed back against GOP attacks on Obama’s Iran posture during the debate.

“President Obama has been clear his administration will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” a statement put out by the Obama campaign said. “The president has imposed the toughest sanctions Iran has ever faced, which are having a major impact on the Iranian economy, and has stood with our ally, Israel, in isolating the Iranian regime around the world.”

During the debate, Mitt Romney criticized Obama for shrinking the navy, whose importance has been magnified in the wake of tough talk from Iran on closing off a major route for oil shipments.

Asked whether a closure of the Straits of Hormuz was an act of war, Romney answered “of course.”

“It is appropriate and essential for our military and for our navy to maintain open seas,” he said, adding the navy had to be built up “not because we want to go to war with anyone, but because we don’t want anyone to take the hazard of going against us. We want them to see that we’re so strong, they couldn’t possibly defeat us.”

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