Paul — a Kentuckian who has said he is considering a 2016 presidential run but has made no decision — is looking to make his first trip to Israel and Jordan sometime in the new year, he said in an interview. He didn't specify the date, citing security reasons.
He has confirmed meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres, as well as with several government ministers and members of the Knesset, according to the senator's office. Paul also is arranging meetings with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, Jordan's King Abdullah and others.
Paul said some critics have depicted him as anti-Israel because he favors cutting foreign aid, but he called that depiction a "misrepresentation."
"It is not my position to be against Israel," the senator said. "I'm appreciative of the fact that Israel is a democracy, one of the few true democracies in the Middle East, and I'm also appreciative that they've been a close friend and ally."
Paul said that foreign aid cuts "should start with countries who have not been good allies. ... I wouldn't start with Israel."
The trip to Israel is significant politically, said Steffen Schmidt, an Iowa State University political science professor.
"It's kind of laying the groundwork," Schmidt said. "Israel is a big, important marker for the Republicans, obviously. … Iowa evangelicals are very big supporters of Israel."
Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican who ran for his party's nomination for president earlier this year, also has had some contacts with potential primary and caucus voters. The Kentuckian spoke at a breakfast in August held by the Iowa delegation to the Republican National Convention and has sent friendly messages to a Facebook page called "New Hampshire for Rand Paul."
The senator said he and his family will be part of a group of 50 to 100 evangelical Christians going to Israel and Jordan.
They include Brad Sherman, an Iowa pastor who headed up a group of pastors for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 in the first-in-the-nation caucus state; Tamara Scott, Iowa chairwoman of Concerned Women for America, a religiously oriented conservative organization, and former Iowa co-chairwoman for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's presidential bid this year; conservative Christian activist David Lane, based in California, who backed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for president this year; and Chad Connelly, South Carolina GOP chairman.
South Carolina is an early primary state.
"That must be coincidence. I don't know how that happened," Paul joked, referring to the presence of those politically connected people.
He seems to be laying the groundwork for a run. As one of the few members of the Senate who is willing to stand up for the beliefs of our founding fathers, he would make an excellent President.