Nikki Haley says she would support Israel, strengthen U.S. military as president

By: - October 20, 2023 6:21 pm

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke to a crowd at Avacentre in Cedar Rapids Oct. 20, 2023, asking Iowans to support her for president in 2024. (Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Friday that when she talked to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu on the recent conflict with Hamas, she had one thing to tell him: “Finish them.”

Haley has emphasized her national security credentials on the campaign trail as a 2024 presidential candidate, speaking extensively on the need to combat China. In the wake of Hamas attacks on Israel, Haley told a crowd in Cedar Rapids Friday that the U.S. needs to pursue three goals when it comes to the Middle Eastern conflict.

“We have three priorities when we look at Israel: Support Israel with whatever they need whenever they need it,” Haley said. “Eliminate Hamas, not weaken them — eliminate Hamas. And do everything we can to bring our hostages home.”

She celebrated the announcement Friday of the release by Hamas of two American hostages, who were delivered into Israeli Defense Force custody at the Gaza border. She said those are “two prayers answered,” but that there are 201 hostages yet to be freed.

“But let me tell you what I told the Biden administration today: Don’t fall for it,” Haley said. “… They are doing this to earn favor with America because they want to try and look good in the eyes of America. Don’t fall for it.”

More than 1,400 Israelis and 3,500 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began earlier in October. In her former position as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Haley said, she had experience dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the country needs to do more to support Israel and its other allies.

“Don’t ever let America be so arrogant to think that we don’t need friends,” she said. “We need friends. We needed them on September 11. We may need them again. Let’s have the right friends.”

The U.S. needs to do more to support Israel, she said, by providing military aid as well as pulling government funding from universities with students and staff who hold protests in support of Palestinians.

But she also said one of the most important things America can do to support Israel is to have a “strong military,” and strong leadership in the White House. She claimed conflicts in Israel and between Russia and Ukraine happened because President Joe Biden is in office.

Haley criticized Biden’s approach to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the recent hostage deal with Iran, saying these incidents emboldened America’s adversaries. The U.S. needs to strengthen its military forces to regain its place on the international stage, she said.

“We’ve got to be smart, and we’ve got to be ready,” she said. “I’m tired of talking about a Department of Defense. I want a Department of Offense. Every enemy needs to fear us.”

Ernst highlights trip to Israel

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst introduced Haley, saying that having a candidate with national security experience is “more important” now as conflicts escalate worldwide. Ernst led a bipartisan delegation to the Middle East earlier in October. She said she and members of the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee spoke with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and advocated for support for Israel among Middle Eastern countries.

The Hamas attack on Israel happened the day before their group was set to head to Israel, Ernst said. The U.S. State Department said the risk was too high for the delegation to go into Israel, Ernst said, but she made it clear that they were going to go into Israel and show support for the American ally.

The Iowa Republican called for Iowans to reject protests condemning Israel’s actions against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and to push the Biden administration to advocate for the Americans caught in the conflict.

“We will stand by the Israelis,” Ernst said. “…  It’s just incredibly important that we continue to push the administration to do all they can to assist these families and Israel. We must not waver on our support. And we must not allow some of these abhorrent protests that are going on across the country, we must not allow them to resonate within our communities.”


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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.