“It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war,” Romney said. “The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers.”
Although he did not address campaign politics in his remarks, his roughly 36-hour trip to Israel has been overtly political.
Many of Romney’s biggest benefactors flew here from the United States for the occasion, including
Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to give tens of millions of dollars to a pro-Romney super PAC.
Adelson sat behind Romney’s wife, Ann, during Sunday’s speech, while top Romney campaign fundraisers occupied the front rows. The campaign took donors on a private tour of historic sites, and many of them accompanied Romney to the Western Wall. New York lawyer Philip Rosen stood a few feet from the candidate as he tucked his prayer note into the wall.
Before he departs for Poland on Monday morning, Romney will hold a fundraiser at the King David Hotel. After coming under fire for saying it would ban reporters from the event, the campaign said Sunday that it would be open to the news media.
Romney’s speech came hours after one of his senior foreign policy advisers, Dan Senor, told reporters that Romney would support Israel’s right to launch a unilateral military strike against Iran.
The Obama administration has urged the Israelis to be patient while international sanctions against Iran are given time to work but has assured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel has the right to act in its own national security interests. Some in the administration fear that an Israeli strike against Iran could ignite a regional war.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement Saturday thanking Obama after he signed into law the previous day an act upgrading security ties with Israel, endorsing the concept of preserving Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region. But there was no such declaration of gratitude by Netanyahu. Obama’s step was widely seen as an attempt to parry Romney’s visit here.
On Sunday morning, a senior Israeli official denied a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, had briefed Netanyahu during a recent visit on U.S. plans for a possible attack on Iran.
The report, which cited an unnamed senior American official, coincided with the start of Romney’s meetings and appeared to underline Obama’s readiness to use military force.
“Nothing in the article is correct,” said the Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The report came at the start of a full day of official meetings designed for Romney to deepen his ties with Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, a friend of Romney’s since they worked together as business consultants in the 1970s.
Romney met with Netanyahu on Sunday morning at the prime minister’s Jerusalem offices. After sundown, their families shared a private meal at Netanyahu’s home to break the holiday fast.
Although he spoke fondly of Romney, even playfully telling him that after so many decades “you still look young,” Netanyahu has avoided any remarks that could be construed as taking sides in the U.S. presidential campaign.
Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and a Netanyahu adviser who attended the meeting with Romney, said Romney did not repeat past criticisms of Obama’s policies toward Israel or try to lay out a Middle East policy different from that of the administration.
“He was more in a listening mode than talking,” Shoval said.
The discussion also covered the perils of the upheaval in Syria and Israeli concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons stocks falling into the hands of the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, Shoval said. The Palestinian issue, he noted, “did not come up in the meeting.”
Scott Wilson in Washington contributed to this report.