“We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course,” he said at a news conference in Jerusalem, Israel. “In final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded.”
Romney is just one of many politicians publicly backing Israel in a period of escalating tension between the U.S. ally and Iran. According to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, Iran is the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East.
“Its pursuit of nuclear weapons, support for terrorism and hostility to Israel make it rightly the single greatest cause of concern in the region at present,” Jeffrey said in testimony at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing last week.
The hearing was aimed at tailoring U.S. foreign policy to problems with Iran. Witnesses said Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon would obviously be bad for the U.S. and its allies, but they don’t know what exactly will happen if Iran is successful.
Some scholars say that, in general, nuclear weapons make states more cautious because they become keenly aware of the destruction caused by a nuclear catastrophe. But with Iran, it’s hard to say.
“Currently the threat of U.S. conventional retaliation is an important check on Iranian behavior, as Tehran recognizes that its forces are no match for the United States,” said Daniel Byman, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “A nuclear weapon, however, would give Tehran the ability to threaten a devastating response should it be attacked with conventional forces.”
Efforts to deter Iran from accomplishing its nuclear goal could be instigating attacks against Israel. The cyber attack to set back their nuclear program and the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists are seen by Iran as low-level acts of war, according to Byman.
“From Iran’s point of view, its own violence is a response to the war that is already being waged against the clerical regime,” Byman,a veteran U.S. intelligence officer, said.
That violence occurred earlier this month in a Bulgaria bus explosion that killed seven Israelis. Israeli officials accused Iran of the attack, although there is no solid evidence Iran was behind it.
Difficulty connecting Iran to terror attacks on Israelis isn’t uncommon because terror-by-proxy is part of Iran’s strategy. According to Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Iran sponsors attacks from terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, so they can deny their involvement.
“The use of proxies has been immensely rewarding for Tehran,” said Pletka, a former Senate Foreign Relations committee staffer. “Iran has the capacity to attack from Argentina to Venezuela, in Asia, in Europe, and throughout the Middle East.”
According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the first step to limiting Iran’s impact on the global stage is outing their terrorist connections.
“Exposing Iran’s involvement in international terrorism is now more important than ever, both to deny the group its coveted ‘reasonable deniability’ and to build an international consensus for action against Iran’s support for terrorism,” said Levitt, a former top Treasury official on terrorism and intelligence.
Although stopping Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism is crucial, the most important – and arguably most difficult – task remains preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities, panelists said.