By Meghashyam Mali - 07/29/12 10:36 AM EDT
A top Mitt Romney foreign policy aide on Sunday said the GOP presidential candidate would back an Israeli military strike on Iran to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision,” said Romney adviser on Middle East affairs Dan Senor in a briefing with reporters, according to media reports.
Romney is in Israel today where he will hold a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver a foreign policy address expected to warn Iran of the consequences of pursuing nuclear capability.
“Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way,” says Romney in an excerpt. “My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country.”
Senor told reporters that Romney believes a U.S. military option should be “on the table” and holds a “zero tolerance” policy towards Iranian nuclear weapons.
During a brief photo opportunity with Netanyahu earlier Sunday, the Israeli prime minister praised Romney’s tough stance.
“Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more,” Netanyahu said, as reported by CNN.
“We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota,” he added. “And that's why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat coupled with the sanctions to have a chance to change that situation.”
The Obama administration says a military option is on the table, but has focused its efforts on sanctions and talks to convince Iran to halt its nuclear program.
Tehran insists the program is for peaceful energy purposes, but the U.S. and other nations fear Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
Romney’s visit to Israel is part of a three-country foreign tour to bolster his foreign policy credentials. The issue is traditionally a strong spot for Republican candidates, but polls show Obama with an edge thanks in part to his decision to authorize the raid which killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the U.S. withdrawal of military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Romney's trip took him to the United Kingdom last week, with Poland next on the itinerary. Romney’s campaign also hopes his visit to Israel boosts him with Jewish voters domestically. Romney has hammered Obama on his Israel policy, claiming the administration has been a weak ally.
Both parties have intensified efforts to win the support of Jewish voters ahead of November’s elections, but polls show Romney with an uphill road to climb. A Gallup poll released last week showed Obama holding 68 percent support from registered Jewish voters to 29 for Romney.
Democrats have pushed back against GOP claims that Obama has been weak on Middle East affairs pointing to legislation he signed on Friday strengthening U.S.-Israel military links and a campaign official last week pledged that Obama would visit Israel if reelected.
In an interview with Bloomberg aired on Saturday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defended Obama’s record and charged that Jewish voters were being “exploited” by Republicans on the issue of Israel. “This president has been a staunch supporter of Israel … No president has done more,” Pelosi said.