There is no doubt that Mitt Romney is a great friend and supporter of Israel. During his short but significant visit to the country this week, the former Massachusetts governor said all the right things.

He backed, inter alia, “any and all measures” to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, Israel’s right to defend itself (adding “it is right for America to stand by you”) and its claim to Jerusalem as its capital – much to the chagrin of the Palestinians.

He argued that Israel’s security is a “vital national security interest of the United States” and advocated a strong partnership between the two countries.

“I believe that the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: It is a force for good in the world,” Romney declared in a foreign policy address in Jerusalem, with the Old City walls providing a powerfully symbolic backdrop.

In the speech, he also said, pointedly: “We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries.”

Ahead of the November 6 election in the US, the presumptive Republican candidate for president presented himself as Israel’s closest friend but was careful not to mention his adversary, the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama.

In what appeared to be a preemptive move ahead of Romney’s visit on Sunday, Obama on Friday signed a measure to strengthen US-Israeli military ties. And US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta strongly defended USIsraeli security cooperation under Obama before his scheduled visit to Israel today.

“I’m proud of the defense partnership that we’ve built over the past several years. The US-Israel defense relationship, I believe, is stronger today than it has been in the past,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him in Tunisia.

Romney received a warm welcome from Israeli leaders, especially Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who noted that they had been friends for decades.

Netanyahu stressed that international sanctions against Iran, led by the US, must be backed by a credible threat of military action.

“We have to be honest that sanctions have not set back the Tehran program one iota and that a strong military threat coupled with sanctions are needed to have a chance to change the situation,” he said.

But Netanyahu, whose relations with Obama have sometimes been strained, must be careful not to appear to be backing Romney. As Israel’s leader, he cannot publicly favor one candidate over another.

The same applies to The Jerusalem Post. As Israel’s top English-language newspaper, it cannot endorse any candidate in a foreign presidential race, particularly in the US, Israel’s closest ally. Doing so would be beyond its purview and violate journalistic neutrality.

Romney concluded his trip in Jerusalem yesterday morning with a million-dollar fundraiser for a group of mostly Jewish Americans who live here.

His trip to Israel, like Obama’s before the last presidential campaign, clearly won him friends here and might boost his chances among American Jews and perhaps Christian voters, too.

With Obama and Romney running neck and neck in the polls, recent surveys have signaled that the American Jewish vote could swing in the direction of the Republican party more than in the past, even if a majority continues to vote Democrat.

Perhaps the most powerful statement by Romney during his visit was made at the Western Wall as Jews commemorated Tisha Be’av, the fast day mourning the destruction of both the First and Second Temples as well as other tragedies suffered by the Jewish people.

“In this sacred spot and on this special day, I have gotten to know more about the history of the Jewish people, and I feel the pain of the destruction undergone by the Jewish people – the special nation as it was in the past – and I pray and hope for peace for the nation of Israel and the entire world,” Romney said, with obvious emotion.

Wearing a kippa, he carefully placed a note in the Kotel, as Obama had done in 2008. His wife, Ann, revealed that she had decided to fast for the day, in keeping with Jewish tradition.

Actions often speak louder than words. We can only embrace Romney and thank him for this important visit while urging Obama to follow suit. Both men are friends of Israel; we believe their friendship will endure, irrespective of who wins the presidential race. It is in both their interest and ours.

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