Looking at tonight’s debate transcript, I counted 34 mentions of the word “Israel” (17 by President Obama, 14 from Mitt Romney and three from moderator Bob Schieffer).
It wasn’t the most mentioned country. I counted 47 uses by the candidates and moderator of the words “Iran,” Iranians” and “Iranian,” and 35 mentions of “China” or “Chinese.”
Close behind Israel, by my count, were Afghanistan (29), Syria (27), Pakistan (26) and Iraq (22). (All counts include variations on the country name – e.g., Syrians, Afghans, etc.)
Obama first mentioned Israel by noting the country’s security interests with respect to the changes sweeping the Arab world and then in relation to Syria’s unrest.
During the debate, the president — who had previously been criticized by some for referring in a “60 Minutes” interview to Israel as “one of our closest allies in the region” — referred to Israel not once but twice as “our greatest ally in the region.” Romney, for his part, called Israel “our closest friend in the region.”
UPDATE: My counts of the mentions of Israel were slightly off: Israel was mentioned 34 times, not 32 times as I had originally suggested. I’ve made the corrections above.