- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2011

FLORENCE, S.C. — Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum said Friday that the United States and Israel should be planning air strikes against Iran to prevent it from producing a nuclear weapon.

“We’ve reach the point where the body of evidence from the United Nations that says this capability has now arrived,” Mr. Santorum said, referring to a report released this week from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency that warned Iran was conducting secret experiments “relevant to the development of a nuclear device.” “Obviously, we are talking about air strikes to take out that capability.”

Mr. Santorum remarks came during an appearance a town hall meeting here at Poynor Community Center, where he told the 40 or so people in attendance that “we are at a inflection point in history” following this week’s International Atomic Energy Agency report.

“We are at our peril if we ignore them,” the former Pennsylvania senator told the crowd, adding that “Israel cannot sit on the sidelines” while Iran has what he said appears to be a clear path to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Iran denies that it is developing a nuke. The nation’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned this week in a speech at a military academy in Tehran that an attack against the Middle Eastern nation would be met with “an iron fist.”

“Anyone who intends to attack the Islamic Republic of Iran is living in a dream and should prepare themselves for strong slaps in the face and the iron fists of the army, Guard Corps and Basijis — in a word, the great Iranian nation,” he reportedly said.

Several of the candidates for the GOP nomination have been scattered around the Palmetto State in recent days in preparation for the first nationally televised debate of the primary season Saturday at Wofford College in Spartanburg that will focus on national security.

Mr. Santorum has positioned himself as a military hawk, pushing pack against what he described as the “short-sighted” push from Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to withdraw troops from of Iraq and Afghanistan. He also has been one of the most vocal supporters of Israel and vocal critics of the “radical” theocrats that rule Iran, blaming them for the deaths of U.S. troops stations overseas and predicting the nation will be President Obama’s Achilles’ heel in the election next year.

“It is highly likely that Iran will be the anchor around President Obama’s neck,” he said, likening it to the negative impact the Iranian hostage crises had on President Carter’s 1980 reelection bid.

Still, heading into the debate, a realclearpolitics.com average of national polls shows Mr. Santorum has a big hill to climb, trailing the two men at the front of the pack, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain by about 20 points apiece. But Republicans here say there is a opening for Mr. Santorum thanks to, among other things, his well-established ground operation and his frequent visits. Mr. Romney and Mr. Cain, meanwhile, have been hard to find, Republicans say.

Mr. Santorum’s appearance here was part of his scheduled four-stop tour in which he planned to sound the alarm on the global threat posed by a nuclear armed Iran and try to convince voters to get behind his candidacy.

“This is a crossroads of world and American history,” he said.