GOP Hopefuls Attack Obama on Israel

GOP candidates critique U.S. Middle East policies.

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Bashing the Obama administration's Middle East policy – specifically the United States's current relationship with Israel – has been the theme so far today at the Republican Jewish Coalition's presidential forum.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney knocked Obama for finding time to visit countries like Saudi Arabia during his time in office but not Israel.

"Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East," Romney said, adding he would travel to Israel on his first foreign trip.

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Fellow candidates former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman joined Romney is accusing Obama of adopting an "appeasement strategy."

Santorum, who kicked off the event, said Obama's efforts extended to "every thug and hooligan" leading Middle Eastern countries at the expense of Israel. Huntsman said, "it is time for the world to understand who our friends and allies are."

The Republicans also emphasized their commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"Ultimately regime change is what's going to be necessary," Romney said. "Iran nuclear means a world that is not safe for Israel, not safe for Europe, not safe for the United States."

Obama was also targeted for "belittling" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alluding to a recent private conversation between France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Obama that was apparently caught on microphone and overheard by some reporters.

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Romney, longtime considered a front-runner in the race, received the strongest reception from the audience, though marginal candidates Santorum and Huntsman also predictably won approval for boilerplate Obama-bashing.

Following a lunch address by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, the forum will continue with presentations by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Texas Rep. Ron Paul declined to attend the event.

Email: rmetzler@usnews.com

Twitter: @rebekahmetzler