DES MOINES, Iowa – Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s views on Israel and Iran have been greatly misunderstood, his son Senator Rand Paul said in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post just hours before Iowans voted in the first caucuses for the GOP nomination Tuesday night.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who like his father espouses libertarian views, said his father’s positions on the threat of a nuclear Iran are in line with those of Mossad head Tamir Pardo and other prominent Israeli figures, who he suggested has questioned the wisdom of using a military option against Iran.

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Pardo was quoted by Haaretz as telling Israel’s diplomats in a closed-door meeting that a nuclear Iran was not necessarily an existential threat to Israel.

“Nobody wants Iran to have nuclear weapons. It would destabilize the Middle East,” Rand Paul told the Post following a campaign event in a Des Moines high school, where hundreds of students cheered at his father’s appearance.

“And yet, we have to ask, would it be worse to have a preemptive war with Iran or better? Or can we contain them? We contained the Soviet Union,” Rand Paul said.

He continued, “I liked Tamir Pardo’s comments in the sense that he said, we trap ourselves into saying this is the end of the world by making it the end of the world if they do get a nuclear weapon. We may not be able to stop them no matter what we do, and if we say it’s the end of the world, does that mean we have to become part of war that could be the end of the world?” On the campaign trail, Ron Paul has criticized sanctions on Iran as interfering with a free economic system, said it was not clear whether Tehran sought to acquire nuclear weapons and that even so it was understandable given its neighborhood, and echoed his son in suggesting that Iran could be contained as the Soviet Union was.

“Why wouldn’t it be natural that they might want a weapon? Internationally they’d be given more respect.

Why should we write people off? In the ’50s we at least talked to them [the USSR],” Ron Paul said at a Republican debate last year. “Countries that you put sanctions on, you are more likely to fight them. I say: A policy of peace and free trade, stay out of their internal business, don’t get involved in these wars.”

Ron Paul also favors cutting all foreign aid. He has said that aid to Israel should be cut and that Jerusalem should manage its own affairs.

Those stances have earned him a significant amount of criticism in many quarters of the US Jewish community, and he was the only major GOP candidate the Republican Jewish coalition didn’t invite to address its members this fall. Polls going into the caucuses showed him likely to finish in one of the top three places on Tuesday night.

But Rand Paul said that the criticism of his father on Israel didn’t take into account the diversity of views within the country itself.

“I think that people over here don’t realize that Israel’s a pluralistic, democratic nation,” he told the Post. “Everybody here thinks that if you’re Jewish, you have one point of view. I think that Israel’s like other countries. There are many points of view, and a lot of Americans don’t understand that.”

To political opponents, however, Ron Paul’s positions on the Middle East are a major line of attack.

“Ron Paul has a terrible record when it comes to Israel, and when it comes to the issues that matter to the Jewish community and when it comes to his apparent views about Jews in general,” charged Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, speaking to the Post at a competing event held across town. Democrats will also caucus Tuesday for a presidential nominee, though US President Barack Obama is assured of being chosen.

Policy on Israel and Iran has also been used by Ron Paul’s competitors within his party to attack him.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts whose precaucus polls gave a slight edge in the race, has described his rival as outside the mainstream on the issue. In Des Moines Tuesday morning, he began his last public appearance before the primary by talking about Iran, though he didn’t mention any GOP candidates in his remarks. Instead, he went after Obama’s record on Iran.

“If you look at the greatest threat that I think the world faces right now from a national security standpoint, it is of course a nuclear Iran, a nation which is suicidal, which speaks of eliminating another people, a nation supports terror around the world through Hezbollah and Hamas,” Romney declared.

“This president said he would engage upon a new strategy with Iran, a policy of engagement. He said he would meet with Ahmadinejad in his first year. Well, how has all that worked out?” Romney rhetorically asked a crowd of some 100 people, a smaller showing than at other events in recent days when his support has swelled as he has laid claim to the front-runner mantle.

Wasserman Schultz pushed back against the attack on Obama’s stance on Iran, saying that Romney had been “distorting” the president’s record and pointing to the several rounds of sanctions he had signed. She also declined to label the threat of a nuclear Iran the US’s top foreign policy concern.

“Making sure that Iran never reaches the opportunity to have a nuclear weapon is a very significant foreign policy priority,” she said. “We have more than one, and I actually think it’s a little naive to single out one, and hold that up above all others. There are several we should be focusing on. When you’re president of the United States, you have to be able to multitask.”

Marcia Smith, 50, a Des Moines resident who attended Romney’s appearance Tuesday morning, suggested that Romney had started his stump speech with Iran because of the controversial views espoused by Ron Paul, a Texas Congressman.

“He was trying to point out that Ron Paul’s approach to foreign policy would weaken the country, which I agree with,” Smith said.

Romney’s strategist Eric Fehrnstrom later told the Post that the candidate had emphasized the threat of Iran long before the current campaign, but he hastened to voice disagreement with the position that Iran could be contained as the Soviet Union was.

“This is not like the threat posed by Russia,” he maintained. “You’re dealing with fanatics.”

Another voter in the audience – one of many who remained undecided about whom they would vote for later that day – said that foreign policy was one of the main reasons he wouldn’t be supporting Paul.

“That’s why I don’t think Ron Paul isn’t going to get too far: You can’t bury your head in the sand and just say, bring everyone home,” said Joe Galasso, 54, a small business owner.

But several Ron Paul supporters who gathered outside the high school where he spoke Tuesday said that foreign policy was a major reason they were supporting him.

Twenty-two-year-old David Megli, who braved the cold to hold a Paul sign with the slogan "Restore America Now," said that he himself cares about Israel and even knows some Hebrew, but that the US should not be interfering in the Middle East for anyone else’s sake.

“I think it could help the situation if we had less of a presence in the Middle East,” he said, adding that he was worried that candidates other than Paul could start a conflict.

“It’s a region that has been fighting for thousands of years, and I don’t think America can solve it. Israel and Iran need to solve it, and I hope they do.”

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