Republican White House hopefuls slammed US President Barack Obama's policy towards Israel on Wednesday, charging he has undermined its security, set back Middle East peace efforts, and coddled Iran.
The embattled Obama "has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East," former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney told a few hundred Republican Jewish activists holding a day-long forum in Washington.
With an eye on the November 2012 elections, Republicans energized by Obama's low popularity have slammed his Middle East policy, hoping to pump up Christian conservatives and erode Democrats' usually strong support from Jewish voters.
Romney, who recently lost the mantle of frontrunner for the party's presidential nomination to former House speaker Newt Gingrich, won cheers when he declared that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad "should be indicted for the crime of incitement to genocide" over his anti-Israel remarks.
"Ultimately, regime change is what's going to be necessary" in Iran, said Romney, who called for "covert and overt" efforts to support the opposition to leaders in Tehran.
He accused Obama of having called on Israel to "adopt indefensible borders," having "insulted" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and being "timid and weak in the face of the existential threat that Israel faces from Iran."
Obama said in May that Middle East peace will ultimately require Israel to exist alongside a Palestinian state, based on shared territorial lines from before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war but modified with "mutually agreed" land swaps.
Republicans -- as well as Netanyahu -- have zeroed in on the 1967 borders while ignoring the notion of territorial exchanges, which are expected to be a way for Israel to shore up its security and keep settlements in the West Bank.
And US and international economic sanctions on Iran have tightened sharply on Obama's watch as part of a concerted effort to force Tehran to halt what the West charges is a nuclear weapons program.
Still, some Democrats have joined Republicans in openly worrying that the Obama administration has not shown sufficient "urgency" about tackling the issue.
Former senator Rick Santorum, a long-shot for the party's nomination, noted Wednesday was the 70th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and compared Obama to politicians who appeased Germany's Adolf Hitler ahead of World War II.
"For every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he (Obama) has had nothing but appeasement," thundered Santorum. "We saw that in the run up to World War II."
Romney also accused Obama of having "adopted an appeasement strategy" that "betrays a lack of faith in America" and said the president was "more generous to our enemies than he is to our friends."
Santorum called for US covert action to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and warned "we cannot sit and hope to contain" Tehran, which he described as virtually hoping for an atomic apocalypse.
Former US envoy to China Jon Huntsman said "it is time for the world to understand that we stand with Israel."
"Today, there is some ambiguity, there is some sense that we are not together. Those days, under my administration, will be gone," he said.
And Hunstman, who like Santorum trails the leading candidates by double digits, reiterated that "all options are on the table" when it comes to Iran -- a refrain typically understood to refer to using force.
Republicans argue that Obama has placed undue pressure on Israel -- notably on the issue of settlements -- while seeking little from the Palestinians as he seeks to revive stalled Middle East peace talks.
Jewish voters, a key Democratic voting bloc that went 78 percent for Obama in 2008, give Obama just a 54 percent job approval rating, according to a recent Gallup opinion poll.
That still leaves him about 10 points more popular among Jewish voters than the overall population, among whom his job approval ratings have slipped to the mid-40s.
Exit polls in 2008 suggested only around two percent of voters nationwide are Jewish -- but they could wield decisive power in vital swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania and provide fertile ground for political fundraising.