What Does John Bolton’s Departure Mean For Israel?

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John Bolton quit the White House on Tuesday. Three of his top aides followed suit and quit Wednesday. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Washington – Benjamin Netanyahu had quite a Tuesday.

One week before Israelis go to the polls in their country’s second election this year, the Israeli prime minister went on live television with a promise that if re-elected, he is prepared to annex sensitive areas of the West Bank in “maximum coordination” with President Donald Trump. Netanyahu cited the U.S. leader’s “great faith in our friendship.”

Literally minutes later, Trump dropped a bombshell on Twitter with his announcement that he had requested the resignation of one of Israel’s closest allies in the White House and a leading proponent within the administration of a hard line against Iran: National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Worse, Trump said he was dumping Bolton because the two had “strong disagreements” on policy. Worse still, Trump’s secretary of state confirmed that the president was ready to meet with the president of Iran without preconditions.

The most immediate source of disagreement between Bolton and Trump appeared to be Afghanistan. Bolton reportedly was trying to hold back Trump from leaping into a peace agreement with the Taliban, and his pressure was said to be behind the scrapping of a meeting this week at Camp David to announce the deal.

But there were other tensions closer to Israel’s interests. Bolton has spearheaded American efforts to isolate Iran and pressed for a military response to the downing by Iran of an American drone over the summer — a strike that Trump approved and then abruptly called off.

Then last month, Netanyahu reportedly scrambled to intervene after reports emerged of a possible meeting between Trump and Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, who made a surprise appearance at the G7 meeting in France.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking Tuesday afternoon at a hastily convened news conference to tamp down speculation about Bolton’s firing, said Trump was open to meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly.

“Sure, the president’s made very clear, he’s prepared to meet with no preconditions,” Pompeo said.

The Iranians, meanwhile, were cheering Bolton’s departure, with Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to Rouhani, tweeting that it was a “decisive sign of the failure of the U.S. maximum pressure strategy” toward Iran.

Israelis fear a Trump-Rouhani meeting would play out much like the summits between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in which the president trumpets his closeness with the autocratic leader even as North Korea’s arms testing continues.

Just hours before his departure, Bolton posted on Twitter: “Now that we’re two weeks from the U.N. General Assembly you can be sure Iran is working overtime on deception.”

Danielle Pletka, a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute, where Bolton also worked in the years he was not in government, cautioned against perceiving Bolton’s departure as a signal of a radical change in Israel policy. Others in the administration, including Pompeo and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president and Trump’s son-in-law, are as pro-Israel as Bolton, Pletka said.

“I don’t think John Bolton is the author of Israel policy,” Pletka said.

Pompeo made a similar point at his news conference, saying that not too much should be read into Bolton’s departure.

“I don’t think any [world] leader should make the assumption that just because any one of us departs that [Trump’s] foreign policy is any different,” Pompeo said.

But a broader concern for Israel could be the reinforcement of Trump’s isolationist tendencies. Bolton was often seen as agitating for a more robust American military posture, a tendency Trump has resisted.

For decades, Israeli leaders have seen U.S. policy through two filters: the specifics of the bilateral alliance, including financial and other assistance to Israel, and the global projection of American power, which devolves on to Israel as one of its closest allies.

On the former, Trump is seen as an overall improvement over his predecessors, taking steps like moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights and encouraging Sunni Arab states to ally with Israel even absent progress toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

On the second, the Bolton firing raises concerns.

“There are people in the president’s inner circle who disagree with American global leadership,” Pletka said. “There are people inside the White House who think defense spending and foreign aid are money wasted and we should deal with things at home.”

Compounding concerns was the bitter tone of Bolton’s departure.

On Twitter, Bolton contradicted Trump and insisted he had quit. Pompeo and Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, both took shots at Bolton, with Mnuchin citing Bolton’s backing for the 2003 Iraq War as one of the reasons for his firing — as if that was not evident when Bolton became national security adviser in 2018.

Bolton’s proxies fired back. CNBC quoted a “source close to Bolton” as saying, “Since Ambassador Bolton has been national security adviser over the last 17 months, there have been no bad deals.”

Notably, Bolton got a fond farewell from the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group that has otherwise enthusiastically embraced the Trump presidency in the last year.

“Thank you for your longstanding friendship, moral clarity and passionate defense of America and our allies, especially Israel,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said on Twitter.

Democrats were ready to pounce on an administration that has seen significant turnover in its upper ranks. Bolton was Trump’s third national security adviser in less than three years.

“This national security — and cabinet — turnover is unprecedented and a clear sign of Trump’s failed leadership, domestically and in the world,” Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said on Twitter. “It also indicates the incoherence and danger of Trump’s erratic foreign policy.”

(JTA/Ron Kampeas)

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19 COMMENTS

  1. So now Trump fired the entire top staff at this vital US agency. Bolton is a true patriot, educated in politics and int’l policy and could not deal with his boss’s childlike idiocy. In love with North Korean murderer? In love with enemy Putin? Bring the evil Taliban to Washington? Buy Greenland? Not for John Bolton…

    • What was Bolton going to do for the antisemitism in the U.S? Where do you live? It’s tiring listening to Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox and Hassids go on and on about Israel. Do you live there? Where is your allegiance? I’m an American, first. Don’t stick your 2¢ into another country’s business unless you’re willing to live there, and fight for it. Israel doesn’t need you if you’re not willing to defend it. Oh, here’s another thought for Jewish Trump voters…Some of the largest recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and other government subsidies are the Ultra Orthodox and Hassid communities. These are the very subsidies the Trump Administration wants to cut. So, it’s time to stop studying and get a job.

      • 1) Is it the role of the National Security Advisor to fight local anti-semitism, your apparent hobby horse?
        2) I see that you harbor a deep ethnic hate, against “the Ultra Orthodox and Hassid communities”. How do I see that? I see it from your emotive, if not vitriolic, tone of writing. I see it from the fact that your brush covers an error in judgement. “the Ultra Orthodox and Hassid communities” are not more supportive of Israel than your average Jewish American. They do care, however, for the people living in Israel, even those there who share you ethnic bigotry.

  2. Anybody believing Trump is really Pro-Israel is a fool. It’s all about the Evangelicals. Wake up! He doesn’t give a damn about Jews. And, Netanyahu will cause more tension in the Middle East.

    • Wake up, smell the coffee, and get a life. A Jewish life. A moral Jewish life. A life concerned for the life of the yet unborn.
      Then post your explanation as to why the alternative to him was/is better.

  3. Remember this…80% of American Jews vote Democrat. Trump did not condemn those that marched and chanted “Jews will not replace us”. Is that who you think is fit to be President. He’s got to go. And, the GOP has to go with him.

    • If you support Trump, you’re unAmerican.
      Remember, he doesn’t condemn the people in this country that want to see us gone.
      If you’re okay with that, then there’s something wrong with you. Or, are you that passive that you’d bend over for this sociopathic POS?

      • Except that he did condemn them, and said so quite clearly. Just because you choose to ignore facts doesn’t mean that everyone else has to.

        Also, pretty funny of you (in another comment) to call Trump’s administration a kleptocracy, he who doesn’t even take his salary.

    • Funny how people bring up Obama when they can’t find any way to defend Trump.
      Face it, you voted for a walking, talking contradiction who cannot tell the truth, because he simply does not know the truth. He made promise upon promise that he did not care if he would keep and changed his rhetoric hourly. His followers follow like sheep, not unlike those of Nazi Germany.

  4. People raise the Obama-card because even if what you say is correct, that Trump “cannot tell the truth, because he simply does not know the truth”, they live through eight years where the President (Obama) knew the truth, but systematically lied. In fact two lies were the only reason he was re-elected. a) If you like your …. b) Benghazi was a demonstration in response to an obscure video. Now there you can find sheep-followers.

  5. yeah, yeah John B. is a real stand up guy and all that. But Trump is a clever poiitician and he saw straight through John B. B’s Loyalty isn’t with the U.S. No, his loyalty is with the zionists of Israel. That’s why it is a good thing he is gone. B. is a warmonger and a danger to worldpeace.
    Trump kept more election promises than any other politician I know.
    That’s why I say: Good riddance to John B. and keep up the good work to President Trump, you were spot on, mr. President, as with your policy towards Afghanistan. Best President the U.S. ever had.

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