John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, leaves the stage after speaking on US foreign policy during the Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LOS ANGELES – The former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, laid out a bleak formula for the future of Iran and Israel’s prospects in the Middle East while speaking at a Los Angeles synagogue on Thursday.
“The only question is whether Iran gets a nuclear weapon sooner or later,” said Bolton, who served as George W. Bush’s United Nations representative from 2005 to 2006.
But the direct atomic threat is eclipsed by the fact that the “world’s central banker of international terrorism will have effective impunity when it gets nuclear weapons.” The result, he told a crowd of several hundred, is that it will move from a pariah state to nuclear state, freeing it from any diplomatic and financial constraints and allowing it to bankroll regional terrorism.
The remarks come just a day after Iran accepted an invitation to participate in UN talks in Vienna, aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria. Unlike previous conferences, the US administration did not object to Iran’s participation.
For Bolton, the White House’s shift in tone towards Iran is a dangerous precedent.
“Bringing them in to talk about the war against [Islamic State] is a mistake, it legitimizes the regime,” he said in an interview before going on stage, where he appeared opposite Israeli Brig.-Gen. (res.) Israel “Relik” Shafir.
Bolton has been fiercely critical of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. At the event, he called Obama “the most hostile president to Israel since 1948.”
Legitimizing Iran amplifies the influence of Russia, which, like Iran, supports Syrian President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime in Syria.
Bolton says that’s bad news for American allies such as Israel.
“The more that you legitimize [Iran] and legitimize the Russian presence, the more you diminish American influence, diminish the influence of our friends,” he said.
Shafir, one of eight Israeli pilots to participate in the 1981 bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq, played a somewhat unlikely counterpoint to Bolton’s pessimism on the Iran deal.
Iran’s ascendancy in the diplomatic world does not come at a direct cost to Israel, Shafir said. Rather, regional diplomacy is not a “zero-sum game.” Before going on stage, he said, “The closer Iran gets to the other powers – let’s look at the bright side if there is any – the more they have to lose.... So it might be a kind of a honey trap.”
Israel’s response to closer international engagement with Iran should be to step up it’s own diplomatic efforts, he said.
He criticized Israel’s sometimes- alienating foreign policy, saying the country should reevaluate “how we should carry ourselves within the international arena.”
“We need to make alignments, certainly with the US, but also with the Russians as much as we can, to try and form some sort of understanding where the red line should be drawn” with regards to a nuclear Iran, he told the audience.
Shafir made it clear that the US Air Force is the only one in the world with the firepower to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
But according to Bolton, “that’s not going to happen.”
Bolton said, “The inevitable consequence is that Iran will get nuclear weapons at some not-so- distant time in the future.”
The venue, Beth Jacob Congregation, a modern Orthodox West Los Angeles synagogue, was politically active in opposing congressional approval of the Iranian nuclear accords.
The congregation’s senior rabbi, Kalman Topp, led a push against the deal, co-authoring a letter to Congress that has been signed by over 1,200 American rabbis.
The event was hosted by the Israel Air Force Center Foundation, which raises funds to support the Israeli Air Force and to put on educational programs for Israeli youth.
One point that both speakers agreed on was that Israel faces no clear path in its regional strategy. Shafir described the choice as “between bad and worse.”
Bolton said in the interview, “This is not checkers, this is Chinese checkers with about six different sides. And right now our policy is failing almost across the board.”