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Republican US presidential aspirant Mitt Romney summed up the sentiment of four US presidential hopefuls who addressed the Seventh Annual Herzliya Conference run by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of the IDC Herzliya over the last two days by saying, "Iran must be stopped, Iran can be stopped, and Iran will be stopped."
"The heart of the jihadist threat is Iran," the former Massachusetts governor said. "I believe that Iran's leaders and ambitions represent the greatest threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union and before that Nazi Germany."
Romney said that when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, "he could care less about history. His point is about the present and the future."
Romney said the Iranian leader's aim was "not to deny the Holocaust, but to deny Israel. He is testing the waters. He wants to know who will object, and how they will register their objections. The Iranian regime threatens not only Israel, but every other nation in the region, and ultimately the world. And that threat would take on a new dimension if they were allowed nuclear power."
Romney said the world needed to jettison wishful thinking about Iran: that Iran's weakening economy would bring about a change of leadership, that it was possible to live with a nuclear Iran, and that deterrence could come into play with Iran just as it did with the Soviet Union.
Romney called for much tighter economic sanctions, and for the world to treat Iran as it did apartheid South Africa. He also called for diplomatic isolation of Teheran, including depriving Ahmadinejad of the privileges given world leaders, and indicting him for public incitement to genocide.
He also called on Arab states to take more active steps to prevent Iran from going nuclear. "These states can do more than just wring their hands and encourage America to act," he said.
He called on them to support Iraq's new government, help "turn down the heat" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tell the Palestinians to halt terrorism, and stop the flow of weapons to Hamas and Hizbullah.
He also said that Iran "needs to understand that a military option remains on the table."
While Romney addressed the gathering in person, former US House speaker Newt Gingrich addressed the conference via a video hookup. He was no less outspoken on Iran.
"Israel is facing the greatest danger for its
survival since the 1967 victory," Gingrich said. "Three nuclear weapons is a second Holocaust," he said.
"We have enemies who are quite explicit in their desire to destroy us. They say it publicly, on television, on Web sites. We are sleepwalking through this as though it is all a problem of communications, and that somehow diplomacy will enable us to come together and have a wonderful fiesta in which we will all learn to love one another," he said.
Gingrich said those enemies were "fully as determined as Nazi Germany, more determined than the Soviet Union, and that these enemies will kill us the first chance they get."
According to Gingrich, "if two or three cities are destroyed because of terrorism, both the US and Israel's democracy will be eroded and both will become greater dictatorial societies."
"What stages are you in Israel going to take if tomorrow morning Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv would be destroyed? Similarly, the US needs to consider what policies it would advance if in 24 hours, Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco were destroyed. These threats will become even more imminent in two or five years' time," he added.
The democratic world must "proactively invest in a much more serious national strategic policy, a much more aggressive commitment to win and a determination to replace the governments and to defeat the organizations that are threats to our very survival," he said.
Asked about the Palestinian issue, Gingrich said the West needed to discriminate between "people who are willing to live with us, and people unwilling to live with us. And frankly, a lot of people unwilling to live with us are probably going to have to die or spend the rest of their life in prison."
Gingrich said there was "no elegant way to say to Hamas, why don't we meet and have a really long weekend together and learn how to be friends. If someone says to you, I am determined that not a single Jew remain, I think it is useful to take them at their word. And if the choice is your survival or their survival, I think you should pick you."
Another Republican hopeful, Sen. John McCain, said the US should "intensify" its military support for Israel to ensure that the country maintained it strategic edge over those who were bent on destroying it, such as Iran.
Addressing the conference via satellite, he said that if the United Nations failed to impose tighter sanctions on Iran, the US should lead a group of like-minded countries do so on their own, outside the framework of the UN.
That would include a divestment campaign, he said.
"Military action is not our preference. It remains, as it always must, a last option," said McCain. Still, he added, "There is only one thing worse than a military solution, and that is a nuclear armed Iran."
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards, meanwhile, said by video conference that stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons "is the greatest challenge of our generation."
At a time when most US Democrats are calling for less military involvement abroad, Edwards of South Carolina told conference participants his country must do everything it can to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"All the options are on the table to ensure that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon," said Edwards, who is making his second presidential bid. He ran in 2004, first as a presidential and then as a vice presidential candidate.
Edwards said Iran's nuclear ambition represented the single greatest security threat, not only to Israel, but to the United States. He said the US had not done enough to stop Iran.
"As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse. To a large extent, the US abdicated its responsibility to the Europeans. This was a mistake." The recent United Nations sanctions against Iran did not go far enough, he added.
Edwards also spoke of the threat Hamas posed to Israel, saying that he was in Israel in August 2001 when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up the Sbarro pizza restaurant in downtown Jerusalem and killed 15 people, including seven children. "I saw first hand the threats you face every day. I feel that I understand on a very personal level those threats," he said.
He said he understood this as well in June 2006, when, right before the summer's war in Lebanon, he took a helicopter trip to the northern border and saw how Hizbullah was armed and ready to attack.
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.