February 9, 2011 for The Associated Press
by Josh Lederman

HERZLIYA, Israel — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday that Iran is the world’s top threat to peace and stability.

Barbour, who is a potential 2012 Republican candidate for president, said world leaders should be judged by their success in responding to Iran’s nuclear program and what he called Iran’s support for terrorism and efforts to destabilize other governments.

The governor received a warm ovation at a prestigious Israeli security conference, where Iran and its nuclear program were a main subject.

Barbour said American policymakers tend to fall into one of two camps regarding America’s alliance with Israel: those who see it as costly and problematic, and those who, like Barbour, consider it a strategic partnership.

“Israel is the Holy Land of democratic faith,” Barbour said. “We’re with you, and we’re glad you’re with us.”

It was Barbour’s only public appearance during his 5-day trip to Israel, hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition. His visit followed recent trips to Israel by two former Republican governors also considering presidential runs: Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

The governor met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and inspected the Leviathan natural gas field discovered last year off Israel’s coast. The huge field being explored by Houston-based Noble Energy has raised hopes that Israel could shed its dependence on foreign sources to meet its energy needs.

Barbour likened the gas discovery to a “second declaration of independence” for the Jewish state.

Barbour’s state is an energy producer and was heavily affected by last year’s BP oil spill. He claimed it has left surprisingly little residual damage.

He said the Obama administration’s moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, imposed after the catastrophic leak from a drilling rig, “is inflicting a disaster on America.”