WASHINGTON -- A former head of Israel's intelligence service, in an interview with The Huffington Post, slammed a recent op-ed by Mitt Romney as causing "serious issues" for the effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
Efraim Halevy, who was the director of the Mossad in the early 2000s and later the head of Israel's National Security Council, told HuffPost that by forecasting his military intentions -- and claiming that Obama would not act in the same way -- Romney is effectively "telling the Iranians, 'You better be quick about it.'"
"If I'm sitting here in the month of March 2012 reading this, and I'm an Iranian leader, what do I understand? I have nine more months to run as fast as I can because this is going to be terrible if the other guys get in," Halevy said.
In the op-ed, published Tuesday in the Washington Post, Romney described Obama as "America’s most feckless president since Carter" and said his rhetoric on Iran "has not been matched by an effective policy."
If he took office, Romney would take aggressive action that Obama was incapable or unwilling to do, Romney promised:
I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security and survival is absolute. I will demonstrate our commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip.
Most important, I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Only when they understand that at the end of that road lies not nuclear weapons but ruin will there be a real chance for a peaceful resolution.
To Halevy, this read as a clear message to the Iranians to expedite their nuclear efforts.
"This means to an Iranian, if you will wait until another few months and there is a change in the White House, then maybe there will be trouble, so the lesson is, Let's redouble our efforts to do it as quickly as we can," Halevy said. "In the effort to demolish the president he is making the situation worse."
Halevy also took issue with the opening anecdote in Romney's op-ed, in which he claimed that after Jimmy Carter "fretted in the White House" for months over the Iranian hostage crisis, the hostages were released only because the incoming president, Ronald Reagan, had "made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior."
"I'm not sure this is the way this actually unfolded," Halevy said dryly. The hostages were released after months of grueling negotiations by the Carter administration.
And Halevy criticized Romney's suggestion that he would sent warships into the Mediterranean Sea as an unnecessary provocation to not only Iran but also Russia.
"Is that what we want -- to renew the Cold War in the Mediterranean? Is that what's going to help Israel?" Halevy said.
In the interview, Halevy emphasized that he didn't particularly care who wins the American election but was increasingly finding the rhetoric of the primary season unsettling and destabilizing.
"I don't want to go into the affairs of the campaign, but by doing this he is not just telling the American public that they can or cannot trust Obama," Halevy said. "Everybody reads what he says, not only citizens of the united states."
"I think people have to be extremely careful with the way they speak," he added. "I don't have any bones about who wins the election, but what Romney has done is a serious problem here. It causes serious issues here."
Halevy has long downplayed the imminent danger posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon, saying late last year that Iran "is far from posing an existential threat to Israel."
A war against Iran, he said at the time, could end up being devastating for Israel and the entire region.
Asked about the progress of nonmilitary solutions for Iran, Halevy told HuffPost that sanctions were having an effect, if not quite fast enough for his preference.
"I don't want to say I'm optimistic or pessimistic," he said. "I think sanctions are biting and biting bitterly. Are they biting enough? No they are not biting enough."
But he also anticipated that impending money-transfer restrictions will have an even greater effect. "I'm not saying it's enough, but things are happening."
"For Iranians, the No. 1 concern is not the bomb; it is to preserve their regime," Halevy said.
CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to reflect that the embassy hostages in Iran were released after a long period of negotiations by the Carter administration not after an arms exchange by the Reagan administration. The Reagan administration later traded arms for hostages being held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon.