New York (CNN)Two GOP presidential aspirants called for a drastic shift in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and sought to prove their pro-Israel bona fides on Thursday, speaking to an audience that included Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
Cruz, Christie go after Obama on Israel
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a declared candidate seeking the GOP nomination for president, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is widely expected to announce a White House bid, delivered blistering criticism of the Obama administration's policies in the Middle East at the Champions of Jewish Values awards gala in New York City.
Cruz predicted Iran was likely to be "on the verge" of acquiring nuclear weapons by 2017 and declared the next president must immediately re-impose sanctions on Iran and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
"That president in 2017 should stand up to the world and explain very simply: either Iran will stop or the United States of American will stop it," the Texas senator said.
Christie, meanwhile, charged that President Barack Obama's policies have drastically weakened America's leadership role in the world and that Obama is "unwilling to stand up to anyone" -- with the exception of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The President only has the resolve to stand up to our friends and not to stand up to evil," Christie said. "As long as Iran believes that Israel doesn't have the right to exist and that America should die as well, they are not a part of the civilized world."
The comments from Cruz and Christie came as Adelson, a staunch supporter of Israel, has not yet publicly indicated which Republican candidate he will back in the 2016 primary. Approached by CNN at the gala, Adelson said he was not interested in discussing politics.
"No politics," Adelson said.
The casino magnate's endorsement is highly sought after -- a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Adelson backed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012 before pouring tens of millions of more dollars into efforts to defeat Obama's re-election.
National Republicans seeking Adelson's approval are keenly aware of just how closely he scrutinizes candidates' views and comments about Israel.
Earlier this year, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came under pressure from pro-Israel conservatives, including Adelson, to speak out against comments made by former Secretary of State James Baker. Baker, who is an adviser to Bush, had spoken critically of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event hosted by the advocacy group J Street.
Christie fell in hot water last year when he used the phrase "occupied territories" in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, ultimately resulting in the governor apologizing to Adelson.
Guests attending the gala included notable Jewish Americans including Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Jacqueline van Maarsen, the childhood friend of Anne Frank.