Throughout the entire debate, Republican presidential candidates – from former New Jersey governor Chris Christie to former vice president Mike Pence – took turns attacking businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.
But perhaps the most explosive attack came from former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who slammed him for his lack of foreign policy experience.
“And the problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel,” she said.
In response, Mr Ramaswamy said he supported many aspects of Israeli policy.
“Our relationship with Israel will never be stronger by the end of my next term, but it’s not a client relationship, it is a friendship,” he said. “And you know what friends do? Friends help each other stand on their own two feet.”
Mr Ramaswamy said he would build on the Abraham Accords, a series of peace negotiations former president Donald Trump’s administration brokered in 2020 between Israel and Bahrain as well as between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. He also said he would partner with Israel to make sure Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.
“But you know what I love about Israel?” he said. “I love their border policies. I love their tough-on-crime policies. I love that they have a national identity and an Iron Dome to protect their homeland.”
The United States consistently provides funding for the Iron Dome air defence system to protect from attacks. In recent years, it has become a sticking point among some progressive Democrats.
“And so yes, I want to learn from the friends that we’re supporting,” Mr Ramaswamy said.
Mr Ramaswamy’s views on Israel have been a sticking point for the political newcomer who has never held elected office before seeking the Republican nomination for president.
Ms Haley specifically cited an interview Mr Ramaswamy conducted with comedian Russell Brand on Rumble, the right-wing video platform funded by Peter Thiel.
“I want to negotiate Abraham Accords 2.0. Get Saudi [Arabia], Oman, Qatar, Indonesia, in there,” he said. “Get Israel on its own two feet, and I believe in standing by commitments that we’ve already made.”
Mr Ramaswamy said that the United States has commitments lasting through 2028, when he would hypothetically be seeking re-election.
“We should not be worried about holding one nation or one region hostage over one particular question relating to Palestine,” he said. “Come 2028, that additional aid won’t be necessary in order to still have the kind of stability that we’d actually have in the Middle East by having Israel more integrated in with its partners.”
In response, Republican Jewish Coalition chief executive Matt Brooks sent Mr Ramaswamy a letter condemning his views on Israel.
“In light of your overall support for a strong US-Israel alliance, I believe that a closer look at the issue of US aid will convince you that now is not the time to end an aid program that provides so much benefit to our nation, strengthens our key strategic ally Israel, and contributes to the stability of the Middle East,” the letter said.