February 22, 2020

John Bolton Arrives for Meetings in Israel Amid US-Iran Tension

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton answers a question from a reporter about how he refers to Palestine during a news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton arrived in Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid tension between the United States and Iran.

Bolton told reporters prior to a meeting Sunday with Netanyahu that Iran should not view as weakness President Donald Trump’s decision to not strike Iranian targets in the gulf in retaliation for Iran’s downing of an American drone late last week.

“Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness. No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East,” Bolton said.

Trump said in a tweet that he cancelled the retaliatory attacks a half hour before they were set to begin after learning that some 150 Iranian civilians could be killed in the airstrikes.

Bolton arrived in Israel over the weekend, ahead of a tripartite meeting scheduled for Tuesday of the national security advisers of the United States, Israel and Russia.

“As we meet, threats to international peace and security in the Middle East and around the world are on the rise,” Bolton said.

Netanyahu called the upcoming three-way meeting “historic.”

“The mere fact that such a high-level meeting is taking place between the great powers – the United States of America and Russia – here in Israel I think is unprecedented. … I hope and expect that this dialogue will be fruitful. I’m confident that it’s possible to both find common ground and chart a path forward that will help promote security and stability in the region, particularly in Syria.”

Netanyahu also spoke about the threat from Iran. “We in Israel saw Iran’s aggression in their increased efforts to establish Iranian military bases in Syria, in their increased efforts to provide sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, in their increased financial support for terror proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This increased right after the (Iran nuclear deal) deal, right after the deal. With the removal of sanctions, we in Israel could see an explosion of terror and aggression. Likewise, our Arab neighbors saw exactly the same thing. They saw Iran’s aggression in Iran’s increased support for terror groups that threaten them, from the Shiite militias in Iraq to the Houthis in Yemen,” Netanyahu said.

Additional U.S. sanctions on Iran are expected to be announced on Monday, Bolton said.

The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal signed in 2015 among Iran and the world powers.

Israel’s National Security Adviser and National Security Council Chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat also met in Jerusalem with Bolton.

Later on Sunday, Netanyahu and Bolton toured the Jordan Valley and took a helicopter tour of the Jerusalem district, the security fence and the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu said that an Israeli presence must be able to remain in the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement “for Israel’s security and for the security of all.”

“As you can see, the Jordan Valley offers Israel the minimal strategic depth and strategic height for the defense of our country. Our presence here also guarantees stability and security for the entire region,” he said.

“I just think it’s too bad, Prime Minister, that more Americans can’t come to locations like this, see the geography, understand its significance, understand how it affects Israel’s critical security position, and explain why Israel has taken the view that it has,” Bolton said.

He added: “I can assure you that President Trump will take the concerns that you have voiced so clearly over the years very much into account as we go forward on this.”

Netanyahu slammed the Palestinians for rejecting the Trump administration’s peace plan before it is even made public.

“In general, I would say that we’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness. I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan rejected it outright. That’s not the way to proceed,” he said.