A cooler breeze wafting over from DC? - analysis

With Bolton's dismissal, Netanyahu is losing a strong advocate in Trump's inner circle who would amplify his arguments.

Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu (R) meets US National Security Adviser John Bolton (L), January 6th, 2019 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu (R) meets US National Security Adviser John Bolton (L), January 6th, 2019
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
It is not exactly a cold front bearing down on Israel from Washington, but all of a sudden a less balmy breeze from way out west can be felt rustling the leaves outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Consider the following: on March 25, just 15 days before the last Israeli election, US President Donald Trump invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his office and loudly and even proudly signed an order recognizing the Jewish state’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
And then on April 8, just a day before the election, Trump considerably stepped up the pressure on Tehran by designating Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
Contrast that with what happened on Tuesday, exactly a week before the September 17 election. First of all, Netanyahu announced that he will apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley if he forms the next government – an announcement that did not, however, include any indication of full US acceptance or agreement, even though it is known that Washington was well informed of Netanyahu’s intent before he made his statement.
And secondly, but for Israel perhaps even more significantly, Trump – less than an hour after Netanyahu’s announcement – unceremoniously tweeted that he was dumping his National Security Advisor John Bolton, the leading hawk in the administration regarding Iran.
This sudden move comes amid recent overtures Washington has made toward Iran, and amid speculation that the president will be meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
While in April the US fully backed Israel on the matter of Golan recognition and stepped up pressure on Iran, in September the US kept quiet about Israel’s plans for the Jordan Valley, and seems to be angling for negotiations with the Iranians. And all that in the short span of five months between two Israeli elections.
Trump’s perceived softening toward Iran helps explain Netanyahu’s hastily organized press statement on Monday, where he “revealed” a newly discovered Iranian nuclear weapons development site south of Isfahan.
Netanyahu, owing a debt to Trump for the Jerusalem embassy move, the Golan recognition, the unstinting support in the UN and the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, cannot now go head-to-head with Trump over Iran as he was willing to do with president Barack Obama. So rather than fighting with the US president from the mountain tops, he reveals information that he hopes will have an impact on Trump.
With Bolton’s dismissal, however, Netanyahu is losing a strong advocate in Trump’s inner circle who would amplify his arguments.
But the loss of Bolton for Netanyahu goes beyond the Iran issue.
It is no coincidence that the whole push to get US recognition of the Golan Heights began with a visit to Israel by Bolton in January, when Netanyahu made his first public appeal to the US for recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic plateau. Bolton was also key in getting Trump to back away from promises to withdraw US troops from Syria, and has long been very skeptical of the reality of a two-state solution for solving the Palestinian issue.
Bolton’s departure does not leave the White House inner circle without strong pro-Israel voices who understand the country’s concerns and insecurities. Vice President Mike Pence is one such voice, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a second, and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner is a third. That is one thing that distinguishes this administration from the previous one.
When former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross left the White House in 2011, Obama’s inner circle was bereft of voices who could whisper the Israeli government’s positions into the ear of the president. Trump, as opposed to Obama, has a number of people who can do this. With Bolton gone, however, that pool just got a bit shallower.