With a setting Jerusalem sun casting shadows on the Tower of David and the walls of the Old City as his background, US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney got what he wanted Sunday before he even delivered a word of his speech – valuable Holy City campaign footage.

Romney is, of course, running for president. He is visiting Israel now because he is running for president. Everything he says now about Israel, Iran and the Middle East, as well as everything US President Barack Obama says and does now about Israel, Iran and the Middle East, must be seen within that prism.

In other words, take it all with a grain of salt: Both what Romney is saying, and what Obama is saying and doing. This does not mean that they do not mean what they say or do, only that it all must be put in the wider context of the campaign.

Romney’s comments about needing to stop Iran’s “nuclear folly,” and his senior advisers’ remark on the plane to Israel from England that Romney would back an Israeli strike against Iran, must be taken in the same vein as reports – denied up and down by the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday – that US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon recently briefed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Obama’s contingency plans for an attack on Iran.

The AP story Saturday saying the CIA viewed Israel as a “spy threat” must be seen through this prism as well. It was no coincidence that someone leaked this type of information to AP the same day Romney arrived in Israel and would deliver a speech the next day saying the two countries should always be inextricably close.

Likewise, it was no coincidence that Obama signed a law enhancing USIsrael security cooperation to the tune of $70 million in additional funds on Friday, just a day before Romney arrived; or that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited two weeks ago for the first time in nearly two years; or that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is due to arrive on Wednesday.

It is all politics. Moreover, it is all legitimate politics.

Israel is an important issue for a significant segment of the US public – Jews and Evangelical Christians. It is therefore more than legitimate for candidates to want to prove their bona fides on an issue important to wide swaths of the electorate. This is not pandering to the Jews; it is election campaigning.

By the way, all those wringing their hands about how unseemly it is for Romney to come here now – so obviously wooing voters – should think back four years when candidate Obama and his rival John McCain both came to Israel in July 2008. Romney used the Old City walls as a backdrop to his professions of empathy and sympathy for Israel on Sunday; Obama used a pile of fallen rockets in Sderot.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Romney was no more a blatant intervention into US politics than Obama’s meeting and photographed handshake with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.

And both candidates – Romney now, Obama then – went for the photo-op at the Western Wall.

It is US election season and, as such, Israel is a prop in the campaign – kind of like a diner in Iowa or a truck-stop in Florida. Every serious candidate makes the stop, though some do it more artfully than others.

One asks, for instance, why it was necessary for Romney to come precisely on Tisha Be’av. Could he not have flown from England to Poland, the next stop on his three-country journey, and then to Israel – coming here on Monday, not Saturday evening, just as the fast began? Also, his last minute cancellation of a meeting with Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich was not handled all too adroitly.

But that is just background noise, a momentary distraction, something that will be forgotten in hours. What will be remembered, or at least what the Romney campaign hopes will be remembered, will be that picture of him looking presidential against the setting of the Old City walls, with the Tower of David to the north, and Dormition Abbey to the south.

Welcome to Israel, an important back lot – once again – for the US election campaign.

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