Sep 11, 2019

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

Trump after Netanyahu election setback: Our relations are with Israel

Trump and Netnyahu at the White House. Photo: Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump appeared to distance himself from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today after the latter’s failure to win a parliamentary majority in Tuesday’s elections.

What he's saying: Trump told reporters in California that he hasn’t spoken yet to Netanyahu about the election results and stressed that his administration's relations “are with Israel." Those cool remarks are a blow to Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival.

Go deeperArrowSep 18, 2019

Trump rips into John Bolton, denies he resigned

Bolton with his bag packed, on a trip to Nashville last May. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump addressed the reasons behind John Bolton's removal as national security adviser on Wednesday, telling reporters that Bolton "made some very big mistakes" and was "not getting along with people in the administration."

The backdrop: The tumultuous working relationship between Trump and his ultra-hawkish adviser ended suddenly on Tuesday. Trump tweeted that he'd fired Bolton, who then claimed to have resigned. Trump insisted that it was his decision to terminate Bolton, but said his former top aide "can do whatever he can do to spin it his way."

Go deeperArrowSep 11, 2019

Bolton's exit could reconfigure Trump's foreign policy process

Former national security adviser John Bolton. Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The departure of John Bolton, President Trump's third national security adviser, injects still more volatility into U.S. foreign policy, and the choice of his successor has profound implications for U.S. national security interests.

The big picture: Bolton successfully influenced U.S. withdrawals from the Iran nuclear deal, arms control treaties and international agreements, while chipping away at American commitments to multilateralism. But he had become marginalized in the White House as his hawkish approach increasingly clashed with Trump's deal-making instincts.

Go deeperArrowSep 11, 2019