Question #1What's the importance of Israel as a strategic ally and how would your administration manage ties between the two countries?
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Senator John McCain of Arizona (R)
Senator Hillary Clinton of New York (D)
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois (D)
Former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts (R)
Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico (D)
Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas (R)
The question was sent to John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Sam Brownback.
John McCain: Late last year, I had the opportunity to visit with the families of two Israeli soldiers - Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - who were captured last summer by Hizbullah during a cross-border raid.
My visit with the loved ones of these brave and noble young men reminded me of the great sacrifices the Israeli people have made to defend their sacred soil and win their rightful status as a beacon of freedom and faith. To this day, Eldad and Ehud continue to be held captive.
Indeed, Israel has never had the opportunity to take a holiday from history, for it has been tested more, in less time, than any nation on Earth. The tests continue today in the form of suicide bombers and rocket fire and in the existential threats issued routinely by the Iranian president.
Long considered a dear friend to America, today Israel is our natural ally in what is a titanic struggle against Islamic extremists - an enemy whose sinister nature I need not explain to the people of Israel.
If elected President of the United States, I will strengthen America's bedrock commitment to the security of the State of Israel.
First and foremost, we must continue to provide Israel with whatever military equipment and technology required to retain Israel's qualitative military advantage and to defend itself.
Just as important is the strengthening of our diplomatic ties. As President, I will invite Israel to play a leading role in the League of Democracies that I have proposed - an organization of like-minded nations working together in the cause of peace.
I would work to further isolate the enemies of Israel such as Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah and I would never pressure Israel to make concessions to states or movements committed to its destruction.
Finally, Teheran's pursuit of nuclear weapons plainly poses an unacceptable risk to the international community, and Israel above all others.
Recently, it was reported that the Iranian regime has begun enriching uranium at an accelerated pace, which means we are that much closer to seeing Israel's security being placed in grave jeopardy.
As President, I will pursue every option at my disposal to neutralize that threat. We cannot and must not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons. I will make sure the American people understand that if we are to defeat the extremists that threaten our way of life, Israel's security cannot be compromised.
Hillary Clinton: Israel is an important ally and strategic partner of the United States. Our nations are united by shared values, a commitment to democracy, and a belief in the dignity of men and women. We are also united by a common strategic interest in fighting back against the forces of terrorism and nihilism.
Israel and the United States have worked together for years on national security objectives, including developing innovative defense technologies. Today, as the United States deals with issues of homeland security, we are also learning from Israel's experience in preventing attacks and preparing emergency responses.
I believe the relationship between our countries should be that between allies, based on mutual respect, appreciating our shared values and a shared commitment to national security policies that reduce the danger of terrorist attacks on free and democratic nations anywhere in the world.
Recognizing the very real challenges we face, I believe we must think rationally and strategically - and jointly - about how our values and our beliefs can be translated into effective action.
It is not enough for us to say the right things; we've got to be smart and tough enough to do the right things that will protect American and Israeli interests now and forever. It is with these principles in mind that my Administration would work to sustain, nourish, and enhance the vital partnership between America and Israel.
Barack Obama: Israel is our most reliable ally and the only established democracy in the Middle East. Israel's security and close US-Israel cooperation is the linchpin of so much of what we want to achieve in the Middle East.
The United States and Israel share important interests - promoting a peaceful Middle East, combating terrorism, and encouraging reform in the Arab and Muslim world. We share adversaries - Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizbullah. And we share deep economic, cultural, academic, and scientific ties that benefit both our nations.
The special relationship between the United States and Israel requires an open and honest dialogue, and strong personal ties, between our nations' leaders. As President, I would maintain regular communication with the Israeli Prime Minister, and instruct members of my administration to do the same at all levels.
I would continue and deepen the strategic dialogue between our nations' defense establishments, insist on fully funding military assistance to Israel to ensure it can defend itself, and expand cooperation on the development of the Arrow and other missile defense systems.
Israel's security - which is of vital importance to the United States - can best be guaranteed by reaching negotiated peace agreements with its neighbors. But Israel must have credible partners with whom to negotiate.
As President, I would actively involve myself in the effort to strengthen moderate Palestinians and others who can be such partners, and to make such negotiations successful, while working to isolate and weaken those who seek Israel's destruction. But I would never try to dictate to Israel what its security requires. The United States should never try to drag Israel to, or block Israel from, the negotiating table.
Finally, I would pursue a comprehensive strategy - of direct engagement, increased economic pressure through international and US sanctions, and keeping the military option on the table - to keep Iran from achieving its goal of acquiring nuclear weapons, which is a danger we cannot tolerate.
Just last week, I introduced legislation to make it easier for states to divest their pension funds from companies that support Iran's oil and gas industry. Israel does not have the luxury of ignoring the Iranian president's genocidal threats, and neither should the United States.
Mitt Romney: In January, I had the good fortune of traveling to Israel, a beautiful, historic and diverse country with a people I respect and admire. America's friendship with Israel is based on our common interests and common values.
Israel's democracy has flourished and its economy has prospered in spite of multiple wars it has had to fight and the diplomatic and economic isolation by most of its neighbors. Israel is a trusted friend and ally in an increasingly hostile region.
Israel stands on the front lines of the struggle against radical Islam's jihad, whose goals are not confined to the Middle East. Indeed, Jihadism's goal of destroying Israel is coupled with its desire to overthrow modern Muslim nations and replace them with a caliphate, and to assault our security and our way of life on a global scale.
Among the many existential threats that Israel faces today, Iran poses the most serious. Iran's leaders are determined to destroy Israel, dominate the region, and spread the poison of fear and intolerance far beyond their borders.
I believe the United States, Europe and others can and should do more to exploit the vulnerabilities of Iran's regime. To this end, I have outlined a strategy consisting of economic sanctions, greater cooperation with modern Muslim states, a stronger military, and support for progressive Muslim communities and leaders.
As President, I would put this strategy to work in defense of US interests, in defense of Israel and for the sake of peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond.
My administration would also remain focused on stopping the financial and weapons flows to Hamas and Hizbullah, insist that the Palestinians abandon terror and recognize Israel's right to exist, and actively work towards a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict where Israelis and Palestinians can each live in security and dignity.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, these threats remind us once again that we must never take Israel's security for granted and that the price of freedom is perpetual vigilance.
As President, I will continue America's efforts to realize fully the vision articulated in the aftermath of Israel's victory in 1967 by that great solider and statesman, Yitzhak Rabin, for the right of the people of Israel to live in its own State free, independent, in peace and tranquility.
Bill Richardson: I am firmly committed to one of the United States' closest and most important allies - the State of Israel. Throughout my career, I've steadfastly supported Israel, obtaining a consistently pro-Israel voting record in Congress and defending Israeli interests as Ambassador to the United Nations.
As Governor of New Mexico, I'm proud that my state has invested heavily in Israel's economy. We re-opened New Mexico's trade office with Israel and in 2005 generated $27.7 million in Israeli-New Mexican trade. We also invested $10 million in the form of Israel bonds. This is the first bond purchase of its type in New Mexico's history.
While George Bush has sought to support Israel, his actions have made Israel less secure in my view. Syria is stronger than ever. Iran's influence in the region has increased and is now in a stronger position to procure nuclear weapons.
As President, I will:
Re-engage the Middle East peace process; reinstate a Permanent Special Envoy to the Middle East
Ensure that the United States uses its all of its power within the United Nations to protect Israel's sovereignty and national security
Provide Israel with the assistance and support to ensure its safety and security
Ensure that Iran doesn't obtain or develop nuclear weapons
Strengthen Palestinian moderates and promote a two-state solution
Spearhead a multilateral Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa. For a small fraction of the cost of the Iraq war, which has made us so many enemies, we could coordinate a multinational effort to support and stabilize this volatile region and reduce anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments throughout the entire area
Pressure Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other friends to reform their education systems. It is unacceptable for any country to teach hatred of Israel
For the past fifty years, the United States and Israel have been linked by common values and interests. I believe that our two nations also share a common future. Neither can prosper without the safety and security of the other.
The challenges that confront us are formidable, but under my administration, the United States will stand alongside Israel to protect the citizens of our two nations and work towards a lasting peace in the Middle East. In the process, the special bond between our two countries will only grow stronger.
Sam Brownback: I am tempted here to discuss all the reasons why I support Israel, to thank the people of Israel for bringing the message of G-d into this world, and to explain my commitment to a united Jerusalem that has always been, and should always remain, the capital of the Jewish people. But I will limit my answer only to the importance of Israel as a strategic ally of the United States.
The simple answer is to point out the strategic benefits of allying with the only democracy in the Middle East. These benefits come in the form of economic opportunities, military cooperation, and political stability - all of which are derived from a shared system of values. But this is only part of the answer.
I submit that the United States and Israel share not only democratic values, but also a common moral vision.
We are engaged in a great struggle against militant Islamo-fascism. Our enemies have many targets - Western democracies, free societies, moderate Muslims - but if you listen to our enemies' words and follow their actions, they single out America and Israel.
Why? Our two nations represent the greatest threat to the Islamo-fascists because, at our core, we strive for goodness. We seek wisdom, compassion, and humility. We aspire for moral excellence.
While campaigning I have said that if America ever loses its goodness, it will surely lose its greatness. Herein we see the importance of Israel: that it remains good in the face of darkness and hostility. America learns from Israel's example. We learn when the people of Israel take great risks for peace, when Israeli response teams are first on the ground in disaster sites around the world, and when Israel removes from danger thousands of Ethiopian Jews and welcomes them into the country with open arms.
In my administration, I would center diplomatic ties with Israel on the fact that Israel's existence is not only fully justified, but in fact it has enhanced the Middle East and the world. My administration would continue to support a peace process, but only from this perspective. Too often it seems that Israel is viewed by others as a burden - an obstacle to stability that must be overcome.
Nothing could be further from the truth. To be sure, Israel has problems and difficulties, and my support for any particular Israeli policy or government would not be unconditional. However, my administration would always reaffirm that at its heart Israel is good, and because of that, Israel can help America and the world be great.