Vivek Ramaswamy, who has skyrocketed to third place in the Republican presidential primary by campaigning as a millennial candidate with fresh ideas, is facing a new hurdle as he attempts to navigate the fraught debate over U.S. military aid to Israel.
The 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur and self-proclaimed political "outsider," has raised eyebrows for his shifting positions on U.S. military aid to Israel, which he now says he wants to cut off in 2028.
While anti-Israel activists have long lobbied for ending U.S. military funding to the Jewish state, Ramaswamy said he supports Israel’s continued security.
The candidate’s stance on the military aid—$3 billion a year, which Israel is largely required to spend on U.S.-manufactured equipment—has changed several times over the past few months. This week, he told the Washington Free Beacon that he supports ending the military funding once the current package passed by Congress expires in 2028, arguing that the aid will be unnecessary after he successfully negotiates new peace treaties between Israel and its Arab neighbors during the first year of his presidency.
"If we’re successful, the true mark of success for the U.S., and for Israel, will be to get to a 2028 where Israel is so strongly standing on its own two feet, integrated into the economic and security infrastructure of the rest of the Middle East, that it will not require and be dependent on that same level of historical aid or commitment from the U.S.," Ramaswamy told the Free Beacon on Saturday.
Ramaswamy describes his Middle East plan as "Abraham Accords 2.0," an expansion of the historic Trump-era deals cementing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
He said he would broker expanded agreements between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Indonesia, and believes he "can deliver that in my first year in office."
"Why is that important? That integrates Israel into the economic and security infrastructure of the rest of the Middle East, in a way that hasn’t happened because Israel has been wrongfully held hostage over a complex historical Palestine question, from being able to integrate itself," he said. "Because Israel was isolated, that required years of the U.S. having to stand for our democratic ally, including in the form of military aid to Israel."
Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Indonesia are often discussed as the most likely candidates for expanding the Abraham Accords, but there have been some obstacles to the negotiations. Saudi Arabia is reportedly requesting a civilian nuclear program in exchange for open diplomacy with Israel, while Oman recently passed a law banning official relations with the Jewish state.
Ramaswamy also clarified in an email to the Free Beacon that he would support continued aid to Israel after 2028 if his plan is ineffective.
"The big difference is to see if the Abraham Accords 2.0 is indeed successful at getting Israel to a stronger place than it is today while relying on U.S. aid," he said in an email last week. "If it is, then that is the best-case scenario for all; if it’s not, then the aid will continue."
But his position has drawn criticism from pro-Israel conservatives and skepticism from some Gulf experts.
"It doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve been doing this for almost three decades now," Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Free Beacon.
"Even if we get these [other countries into the Abraham Accords], we still have a bunch of enemies with technology" in the region, such as Iran, said Abdul-Hussain.
Conservative pundit Mark Levin questioned Ramaswamy’s position in a message to the candidate on Twitter.
"We need Israel as a counterweight to Iran, Syria, terrorist organizations, etc. You seem oblivious to America’s need to have strong and reliable allies throughout the world to help our own security needs," wrote Levin. "I’m all for outsiders. But, respectfully, you need to bone up a bit on this subject."
Ari Hoffman, a conservative radio host, also weighed in on Twitter, saying Ramaswamy’s "comments on Israel prove he has no understanding of the Middle East & likely shows he has little understanding of U.S. foreign policy."
Ramaswamy has acknowledged that he is a newcomer to some of these foreign policy debates. He noted that he "didn’t know much of this six months ago," in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt about Taiwan this month, adding that the "only difference between me and the other candidates is I’m the only one actually willing to admit that."
This could also explain his shifting positions as he attempts to grapple with these issues on the national stage.
Ramaswamy's latest stance on Israeli military funding comes two months after the candidate told the Free Beacon that he supported continuing aid to Israel. The Free Beacon asked Ramaswamy to clarify his position in June after he was videotaped telling a small campaign gathering that he would consider ending military financial support to the Jewish state.
"That's not what I said," Ramaswamy told the Free Beacon, when asked if he supported cutting aid to Israel at the time. "When someone asked about aid to Israel, I said we can’t narrowly criticize our financial aid to Israel in isolation when our other policies of engagement in the Middle East have indirectly contributed to the threats that Israel faces."
"Just to clarify, are you in favor of the aid or no?" the Free Beacon replied to Ramaswamy.
"Yes," he responded.
Earlier in June, Ramaswamy told a gathering in New Hampshire that he would draw back the foreign aid as "part of a broader disengagement with the Middle East," according to video of the event obtained by the Free Beacon.
"I would not do that as an isolated policy," Ramaswamy said at the time. "I would do it as part of also making sure that we're not leaving other people we've also propped up, from Saudi Arabia to even Iran, in other ways, over the years, right? So it's got to be part of a comprehensive strategy."
Ramaswamy during an interview with the radio show the Breakfast Club in late June denied again that he supported cutting off aid to Israel.
"You told a voter that you were open to ending foreign aid to Israel. Then it was reported that it was a misunderstanding," said host Charlamagne.
"Yeah, that was a false reporting, actually," said Ramaswamy.
"Oh, you never said that?" asked Charlamagne.
"No, I did not," said Ramaswamy.