Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the US presidency, pledged last night to "stand with Israel", hours after one of his senior advisers had said he would "respect" a decision by Israelis to launch a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Mr Romney said "no option should be excluded" in preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power, adding: "We recognise Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you."
There were some signs of damage limitation in the Romney campaign as the former Massachusetts governor, on a high-profile visit to Israel, declined to be as explicit as his adviser Dan Senor, who said earlier that Mr Romney would respect Israel's decision if it "has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability."
When asked by the US television network CBS to comment on Mr Senor's remark, Mr Romney said he preferred to use "my own words".
Ina 17-minute speech, he went on to insist that his message to "the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran [was one and the same". He said: "We will not look away; and neither will my country look away from our passion and commitment to Israel."
Mr Romney lavished praise on his hosts, representing "one of the most impressive democracies on Earth", and controversially broke with a wide international consensus by declaring Jerusalem to be "the capital of Israel". The policy of most governments, including Britain's, is that they will recognise West Jerusalem as Israel's capital when East Jerusalem is the agreed capital of a Palestinian state.
On Iran, Mr Romney insisted that it was "our fervent hope" that diplomatic and economic measures would stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He also followed the formula used by President Barack Obama earlier this year in saying that he recognised Israel's right to defend itself.
But while the Obama administration has made it clear to Israel that it does not want to see a military strike on Iran before sanctions have had a further chance to take effect, Mr Romney's pledge to "stand with" Israel – while not specific – may still fuel the impression left by Mr Senor that he would endorse an Israeli strike if one was launched before the US election in November. The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who held a private family dinner last night with Mr Romney and his wife, praised the Republican's tough rhetoric to date after talks with the candidate.
He added: "We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian programme by one iota.
"And that's why I believe we need a strong and credible military threat, coupled with the sanctions, to have a chance to change that situation."
Straining to the limit the protocol precluding overt attacks on the incumbent President, Mr Romney's visit is widely seen as an effort to use his pro-Israeli stance to increase the numbers of Jewish voters prepared to consider voting Republican in November.
Republican strategists will also hope that it may help to turn out fervently pro-Israeli Christian evangelist voters, including conservatives still unconvinced that Mr Romney is sufficiently in tune with their views.
One of the major donors aiding both the push for Jewish votes and the much wider campaign effort is the US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate, who has suggested that he will spend up to $100m on the Romney campaign, and is expected to attend a fund-raising breakfast here today.
Mr Adelson's free newspaper Israel Hayom, with the largest circulation in the country, is strongly supportive of Mr Netanyahu.
Backers 'to pay £30,000 a head' for breakfast
About 30 potential donors to the Republican campaign will attend a fundraising breakfast at a reported cost of $50,000 (£31,000) a head at Jerusalem's King David Hotel today. Like other events on Mr Romney's international pre-election swing, the fundraiser has not been problem-free. The event was to have been a dinner but became a breakfast because it clashed with the end of the Jewish Tisha B'av holiday. Then campaign organisers had to reverse its decision to close it to the press after protests that Mr Romney had promised more fundraising transparency.Reuse content