Iran ‘tops list’ of US and Israel’s ‘challenges,’ Bolton tells Netanyahu

Bolton arrived in Israel to address the challenges posed by Iran, Syria, and the ongoing Gaza conflict.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

On Sunday, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, landed in Israel on his first trip in this role. Bolton arrived to begin a round of talks on “bilateral concerns and a range of national security issues,” he tweeted.

He first met informally with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife at their residence, for dinner Sunday evening. The official meetings begin on Monday morning.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer also attended the dinner on Sunday evening.

At the start of the dinner, Netanyahu stated, “Ambassador Bolton, John, it’s a pleasure to see you. We’ve been friends for many years, and I can testify that in and out of office, you’ve been a tremendous friend – tremendous friend of Israel, tremendous champion of the American-Israel alliance.”

Netanyahu added, “The most important [topic is] how to continue to roll back Iran’s aggression in the region and to make sure that they never have nuclear weapons. Many other things, but I think this is a good starting point.”

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Bolton responded, “The Iran nuclear weapons program, the ballistic missile programs are right at the top of the list. So I’m delighted to be here, and look forward to our discussions.”

In an interview with ABC News before taking off, the pro-Israel Trump confidante explained that a major focus of his discussion with Netanyahu would be Iran, a regional concern for both Israel and the United States.

“Certainly the objective of the United States and Israel – and President Putin said it was also Russia’s objective – is to get Iran, Iranian forces, Iranian militias, Iranian surrogates out of the offensive positions they’re in, both in Syria and Iraq. And frankly, to end Iran’s support for Hezbollah,” he said, reiterating an imperative that Netanyahu has emphasized repeatedly over recent months, declaring that Iran’s presence in Syria crosses a red line for the Jewish state.

Iranian support for radicalism is the heart of the issue, Bolton insisted in the ABC interview. The Islamic Republic is “a threat to peace and security not just because of its nuclear program, but because of its military operations and its support for terrorism,” he added.

Bolton also maintained that the US’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal, as well as the snapping back of sanctions whose first stage already began, had “put a real crimp into the Iranian economy. I think they’re feeling it, and the ability of the Al Quds Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to conduct offensive operations in the region – and also in Yemen – has been curtailed.”

If any talks are going to be held on anything related to the possible ceasefire on the Gazan border or any other Palestinian issue, however, it seems that Bolton will only be hearing from the Israeli side, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected the idea of meeting with anyone from the American administration.

In a speech to the PLO Central Council in Ramallah last week, he referred to American officials who wanted to help Gazans as “liars,” and said that the Palestinians were delivering to President Trump the “slap of the century” in turning down the American peace plan before it has even been revealed.

After his meetings in Israel, Bolton will be meet with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva. The meeting is being touted as a follow-up to July’s Putin-Trump summit, and undoubtedly, Israel will be on his agenda as well.