Sep 11, 2019 - World

Bolton's ouster a blow for Netanyahu ahead of Israel's elections

Netanyahu (L) and Bolton look out on the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images

John Bolton’s departure from the White House has been seen in Israel as a sign of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's weakened standing with President Trump, and it will exacerbate Netanyahu's anxiety over Trump’s push for direct talks with Iran.

Why it matters: Bolton's ouster is a big blow for Netanyahu both in substance and in timing. Bolton was Netanyahu’s most important ally in the White House on Iran and other foreign policy issues, and he was forced out a week before Israel's elections.

The big picture: The relationship between Netanyahu and Bolton goes back many years, and their world views are remarkably similar:

On Iran: Bolton and Netanyahu both urged Trump to hold the line on his "maximum pressure" campaign, and they resisted the idea of direct talks with the Iranians with no preconditions.

  • Israeli officials fear that Bolton’s removal paves the way for a summit very soon between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
  • Bolton and Netanyahu also saw eye to eye on possible military options against Iran's nuclear program and on the need to explore avenues for regime change.

On Syria: Both Bolton and Netanyahu were against withdrawing U.S. forces. Their efforts were part of the reason Trump changed course.

  • Bolton was also central to the shift in U.S. policy in Syria from only defeating the Islamic State, or ISIS, to also pushing Iranian forces out of the country.

On the Palestinian issue: Bolton was not directly involved in the drafting of the White House peace plan, but Netanyahu saw him as someone who could help lobby for his positions on the plan from inside the White House.

  • Bolton is vehemently against a two-state solution. When Bolton visited Israel in June, Netanyahu took him on a tour of the Jordan Valley — the area of the West Bank that Netanyahu recently promised to annex. Bolton gave a statement that supported Netanyahu’s claims about the area being critical to Israel’s security.

The latest: Netanyahu hasn’t addressed Bolton's departure, nor did Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer in a speech at his residence in Washington.

Go deeper