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Romney's Israel speech: Iran will be 'highest national security priority'

The presumptive Republican candidate for president offered few hints of what he would do differently from Obama aside from avoiding public disputes with Israel. 

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In another dig at Obama – who has been bragging about stepped-up military cooperation with Israel – Romney blamed the president for allowing public disputes to emerge: "Standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone," he said. "We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel's adversaries.''

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Romney’s portrayal of Iran seemed to echo Netanyahu's apocalyptic comparisons of Iran and Nazi Germany. The Republican nominee said Iran's leaders are "testing our moral defenses" and added "we have seen the horrors of history. We will not stand by. We will not watch them play out again."

His warning that "when the world’s most despotic regimes secure the world’s most dangerous weapons" will lead to war also seemed to echo remarks made by Netanyahu just last week about the need to stop Iran.

Second billing in Romney’s speech was given to the tumult in Syria and the political transition in Egypt. He gave no policy direction on Syria, and urged Egypt to uphold its peace treaty with Israel, as the administration has done.

Absent from the speech was any mention of the peace process with the Palestinians, which has been mothballed for years and shows no signs of resuming. Just two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated Obama, saying that "the status quo is unacceptable."

Romney's broader critique

This is the second presidential election in which the Jewish state has become a campaign stop. In 2008, both Obama and Sen. John McCain took breaks from campaigning in the US to visit here.

But the open bickering between Obama and Netanyahu over the peace process with the Palestinians and how to confront Iran has made support for Israel an issue for debate, and part of Romney’s broader foreign-policy critique that the administration has failed to stand behind allies and projected weakness.

Romney’s visit is also seen as an attempt to indirectly highlight the fact that Obama did not visit Israel in his first four years of office when he visited other American allies in the Muslim world, stirring up criticism from some Israelis.

"Romney feels that the president may be somewhat vulnerable. Romney may sense that there is some Israeli dismay at some Obama policies and sees an opportunity," said David Horvitz, editor of the Times of Israel news website. "Unfortunately, Israel has become an issue of greater partisan debate than it used to…. That’s tremendously to Israel’s detriment."

Despite Romney’s oft-quoted allegation that Obama has thrown Israel "under the bus," many Israelis are unfamiliar with Romney because they aren’t paying attention to the US election. A recent poll  among Israeli Jews by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, an institute at Bar Ilan University, showed Romney with a seven percentage point edge over Obama regarding who would better promote Israel’s interests, but 49 percent said they don’t know.

Jewish-American voters at stake

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