Mitt Romney, the man everyone but Ron Paul expects to be the next Republican candidate for president, will meet this morning, Sunday, July 29, 2012, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The meeting is seen by many observers as an attempt by Romney to attract Jewish and Evangelical Christian Voters. At the same time, officials in Jerusalem are going to great lengths to avoid giving any appearance that the Prime Minister is trying to influence the outcome of the 2012 U.S. elections.
Romney arrived in Israel on Saturday, July 28. He will remain in Israel until noon, Monday, at which time he will continue on to Poland. He arrived on the eve of Tisha B'av, one of the most sacred days in the Jewish religion. Tisha B'av commemorates the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and Second Temple in 70CE. Tisha B'av is a day of mourning, prayer and fasting. It is considered by Jews to be "the saddest day in Jewish history."
After his morning meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr.Romney will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. After the Tisha B'av fast ends, Romney will return to Prime Minister Netanyahu's residence for dinner.
Critics have accused Romney of using Israel as a prop to attack President Obama. They point out that he is giving a foreign policy speech Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem, and that on Monday morning, he will squeeze in a $50,000 per couple fund raiser before he departs for Poland. His detractors also mentioned that Mr. Romney has agreed to an exclusive interview with ABC Television during his visit to Israel, which they cite as further proof that Romney considers Israel to be nothing more than another campaign stop.
Mitt Romney was already reeling from this week's disastrous visit to the London. Romney arrived in London on Wednesday, July 25, to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and to attend the opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics. Comments made by Romney himself, and an alleged remark by an aide, infuriated the British public and by week's end, Romney was ducking for cover.
The uproar began before Mitt even arrived in London, when The Daily Telegraph claimed that a Romney aide made the following statement: "We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he (Romney) feels that the special relationship is special." This comment, which the campaign denies making, was cited by Democrats as further proof of Romney's insensitivity to racial issues and lack of foreign policy experience. Vice President Biden, performing in his customary role as Obama's pit bull, savaged Governor Romney, when he said, "Just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership."
Then on Thursday, July 26, Romney outraged British citizens, when he questioned the ability of the government and the City of London to conduct a safe and successful Olympics. He told NBC News, "There are a few things that were disconcerting—the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging,"
If Mitt Romney hopes to repair the damage that was done to his campaign, the thoughtless comments must come to an end. The loose cannons on his staff must be read the riot act and silenced. For Romney to defeat Obama in November, he can ill afford to make any more amateurish mistakes. His clueless behavior in London certainly did not win Mitt Romney any friends.
Ultimately, while a solid majority of American's strongly support Israel, the main issues in this campaign are the economy, 15% real unemployment, the insane national debt and Obamacare. However much the voters may wish to protect Israel from a nuclear Iran, they are also sick and tired of the endless, costly wars that have killed thousands of Americans and added trillions to the staggering deficit. Romney may say all the right things to sound like he stands behind Israel and means business, but in his heart, Netanyahu is probably wondering if Israeli really will have to go it alone.
Update - 10:00 AM Jerusalem:
According to Reuters, just prior to the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mr.Romney's senior national security aide, Dan Senor, was quoted as saying, "US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would back Israel if it were to decide it had to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision."
It would appear the Republican candidate is taking a hard line attitude, which is contrary to President Obama's policy of trying to avoid any unilateral action against Iran by Israel. How this plays with the American voting public will be determined in the days and weeks ahead.
Update - 12 Noon Jerusalem:
Governor Romney has concluded his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and he is on his way to a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres. At the meeting, Netanyahu was firm in his belief that American sanctions on Iran are not working.
Netanyahu said, "I heard some of your remarks and you said that the greatest danger facing the world is the Ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability. Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more, and I think it is important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing that capability. We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota."
Romney told the Prime Minister he was interested in hearing Israel's views on Iran and that he wanted to discuss "further actions that we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly."
Governor Romney added, "He was honored to be here on Tisha Be'Av, to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia, and come with recognition of the sacrifices of so many. Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times."
Update: 5:00 PM Jerusalem
Romney has finished his meeting with Shimon Peres. The Israeli President, who twice served as Israeli's Prime Minister, is considered a "dove" by most Israelis and was one of the chief architects of the Oslo Accords. Many Israelis see his support for territorial concessions to the Palestinians as naive and dangerous. Peres is opposed to the use of military force against Iran and favors strong international sanctions.
While he is against going to war with Iran to deny them nuclear weapons, Peres seems to have a realistic attitude about Iran's intentions towards Israel. In a previous interview, Peres did not hide his contempt for Iran's Holocaust denying President. Peres said, "Ahmadinejad is calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, and the combination of nuclear weapons in the hands of a deranged extremist religious leader is a nightmare for the world. In a way it's more complicated than in the time of the Nazis. Hitler didn't have a nuclear bomb."
In his talks with Romney, President Peres spoke of the need for strong sanctions. Peres said, "We trust [the US position] includes a very serious and warm consideration of the security of Israel. It's far from being just an Israeli problem." Peres is willing to go along with Obama's current policies on Iran and gave no indication that he thought the sanctions were ineffective.
After his meeting with Peres, Romney met with Opposition Leader, Shaul Mofaz. The talks once again revolved around Iran. Mofaz, like Peres, indicated support for President Obama's approach, when he said that the administration was "committed to dealing with Iran." Echoing other Obama positions, Mofaz discussed the need to mend fences with Turkey and negotiate with the Palestinians. Mofaz told Romney, ""We have to be ready for all options on Iran, but the time for military operations has not yet come. This is a time to tighten the sanctions on the Iranian regime and be ready for any development which we should handle in full coordination."
Instead of meeting next with Labor Party leader Shelly Yechimovich, Romney left many observers shaking their heads in disbelief, when he cancelled their talk. Israel's Labor Party controlled the government for many years and it is puzzling that Romney did not meet with their leader. One Labor Party Member of the Knesset, Isaac Herzog, expressed surprise at the "unexplained, last minute cancellation" and wondered if the decision may have been politically motivated. Labor is considered to be center-left, social-democratic, and dovish; similar in many ways to America's progressive Democrats and Herzog speculated that may have been the reason for the cancellation. Perhaps Romney felt that 3 meetings in a row with people who were more supportive of Obama than their own Prime Minister might have been embarrassing to him and Netanyahu. However, well informed observers of Israeli politics certainly could have informed Mr. Romney that this is normal behavior among Israeli politicians. National unity is no more popular with today's Israeli political parties than it is between America's Republicans and Democrats.
As the day wound down, Romney had not met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad but the meeting is still on the schedule. After the meeting with Mr. Fayyad, Romney and his wife, Ann will join Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, Sara at Netanyahu's residence for a private dinner.
After Romney leaves Israel, he will be headed to Poland, where he is expected to give a speech on Monday Night. In the speech, Romney will discuss the need to pursue an aggressive approach on Iran. He will emphasize the fact that, in his view, Iran poses a real and direct threat to the very existence of Israel. Referring to Israel as "the closest US ally in the turbulent Middle East", Romney said, "When Iran's leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naive - or worse - will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric. 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."
The rumble of the distant war drums grows ever louder from the Romney camp. Despite appeals from many of Israel's more dovish leaders to resist war and let the sanctions do their work, Romney has spoken over and over about the need to be more forceful with Iran. If Romney is to be taken at his word, he believes that Iran is testing America's will and commitment to defend Israel. He indicates that if America blinks in the nuclear stare down, the Mad Mullahs of Iran will pounce like a hungry lion on a baby antelope.
Update 8:00 PM Jerusalem
Opposition Leader Shaul Mofaz went on Army Radio a few minutes ago and gave an interview about his meeting with Mitt Romney. He told listeners that he had much more to talk about with Romney than just Iran.
Mofaz discussed economic issues, national service and the Israeli government coalition. The Opposition Leader also spoke with Romney about several Arab nations including Egypt, Syria and Jordan and he brought up the need to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
When the conversation came back around to Iran, Mofaz was adameent that if it ever becomes necessary to go to war with Iran, the only acceptable way to use military force would be if the United States led the operation.
One can only wonder if Mofaz has any concept how badly that will go over in certain quarters? There are already those on the left in the United States who grumble constantly about having to risk American lives for Israel's wars. Perhaps that is why Mofaz said it in the first place.
Israeli politics being what they are, even on the occasion of the visit of an American presidential candidate, Mofaz couldn't resist the opportunity to attack Netanyahu on domestic issues. During his radio interview, Mofaz accused the government of "irresponsible management" over the planned budget cuts and claimed that the middle class would suffer. It seems that criticizing Netanyahu is the paramount concern of the opposition. Once again national unity takes a back seat to partisan politics. Who cares if the majority of Israeli voters wants a strong leader like Netanyau to stand up for Israel.