WASHINGTON (JTA) — Mitt Romney said he would increase defense assistance to Israel, raise the U.S. military profile near Iran and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and frontrunner in the bid to secure the Republican nomination for president, delivered the first major foreign policy speech of his campaign Friday at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina.
He cast President Obama’s policies as contributing to Israel’s isolation.
"I will bolster and repair our alliances," he said. "Our friends should never fear that we will not stand by them in an hour of need. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state."
The Obama and Netanyahu governments have smoothed relations in recent months, and Israeli officials credit the administration with tightening defense ties and backing Israel at the United Nations. Obama also refers to Israel as a Jewish state, althoug he has not issued a formal declaration of such a recognition.
Romney suggested Israel might be further isolated by 2015 if Obama remains in office.
"Will Iran be a fully activated nuclear weapons state, threatening its neighbors, dominating the world’s oil supply with a stranglehold on the Strait of Hormuz?" he asked. "In the hands of the ayatollahs, a nuclear Iran is nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Iran’s suicidal fanatics could blackmail the world. "By 2015, will Israel be even more isolated by a hostile international community? Will those who seek Israel’s destruction feel emboldened by American ambivalence? Will Israel have been forced to fight yet another war to protect its citizens and its right to exist?"
Romney said that as president he would "enhance our deterrent against the Iranian regime by ordering the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces, one in the Eastern Mediterranean and one in the Persian Gulf region. I will begin discussions with Israel to increase the level of our military assistance and coordination. And I will again reiterate that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable."
He also said he would centralize U.S. Middle East policy to ensure "that the Arab Spring does not fade into a long winter."
The speech came a day after Romney published a list of his foreign policy advisers, including many who have been active in or are close to the pro-Israel community.