JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday accused President Joe Biden of being soft on Israel's foes and inviting further violence during a deadly 11-day war that left Israelis rattled and turned parts of the Gaza Strip to rubble.
One of four prominent Republicans in Israel in the conflict's aftermath, Cruz told The Associated Press in an interview that the Democratic president's policies, including a call for Israel to wind down the war, had “emboldened” Hamas' militant rulers. He said the U.S. owes Palestinians no humanitarian aid as long as there's a danger of that money flowing to Hamas.
“The longer Joe Biden shows weakness to Hamas or Hezbollah or Iran, the more you’re going to see terrorist attacks escalating,” Cruz said after a day of touring Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system and and viewing damage in Ashkelon.
Cruz also refused to rule out another run for president in 2024, keeping alive the prospect of a new Republican brawl for the party's presidential nomination — and perhaps a rematch with former President Donald Trump.
The fighting erupted May 10 when Hamas launched a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of protests and clashes over Israel’s policing of a flashpoint holy site.
Before the cease-fire took effect May 21, Hamas had fired over 4,000 rockets toward Israeli cities, while Israeli warplanes struck some 1,000 targets in Gaza. More than 250 people were killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians living in the seaside enclave ruled by Hamas. Israel blames Hamas for the heavy civilian casualties because Hamas launches attacks from residential areas.
Throughout the fighting, Biden and many other world leaders maintained that Israel has a right to defend itself even as concern — and protests in places like Turkey, Pakistan and Britain — mounted over the crippling use of force leveled at Gaza.
Cruz's remarks were a stark departure from a once-customary practice of refraining from talking domestic politics while overseas, particularly about the sitting U.S. commander in chief.
At least two of the four American Republicans visiting Israel this week have apparent presidential ambitions — and all are in hot pursuit of support from pro-Israel evangelical voters that form a core part of the GOP's base.
Besides Cruz, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also served as Trump's CIA director, tweeted Sunday that he was in Tel Aviv attending the retirement party of Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.
“Great to be with good friends in Tel Aviv!” Pompeo tweeted.
Sen. Lindsay Graham was also touring damage caused by rocket fire and meeting with Israeli leaders.
“No one has done more for Israel than you, Sen. Lindsey Graham,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday. Graham, standing next to him, held up a sign that said, “More for Israel.” In a tweet later, he explained, to “help protect and defend from Hamas rocket attacks.” On Tuesday, Graham will tour rocket damage in Israel, he said in a press release.
Netanyahu enjoyed warm relations with Trump, alienating many segments of the Democratic Party. His relations with Biden have been cordial, but cooler.
Cruz and Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., toured the rubble in Ashkelon where a Hamas-fired rocket hit an apartment and killed the caregiver of an older woman. Cruz tweeted photos.
Hagerty, who was Trump's ambassador to Japan, also criticized the various steps taken by Biden to reverse Trump's policies. Biden, for instance, has pledged some $360 million in aid to the Palestinians, including money to help repair war damage in Gaza. Trump cut off nearly all U.S. aid to the Palestinians.
“Any monies that go to the Gaza Strip that are quote, intended for infrastructure, can be easily diverted by Hamas,” Hagerty, seated next to Cruz, said.
Where Hagerty was diplomatic, Cruz was blunt. “Appeasing terrorists doesn't produce peace," he said of Biden.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked whether he'd rule out running for president, Cruz demurred, replying that the 2016 campaign was “the most fun I've ever had in my life."
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