John Bolton Says Growing U.S. Isolationism Threatens Ukraine's ...


PRAGUE -- Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton says Israel is entitled to retaliate against Iran for its weekend attack, including destroying its nuclear weapons program, and stands by his comment that President Joe Biden is "an embarrassment" for urging Israel not to respond.

In an interview with Current Time, Bolton said if Iran targeted the United States using hundreds of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones as it did on April 13 against Israel, Washington would retaliate at a minimum by destroying the bases and facilities from which the attacks were launched.

"I am firmly of the belief that if the U.S. faced that kind of attack, there's no doubt [what] we would do. Why should we deny the Israelis the right to…react the same way we would?"

Bolton spoke with Current Time from Washington as Israel weighs its response to Iran's attack, which Iran said was in response to a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, last month that killed two brigadier generals.

Almost all of the missiles and drones were shot down by Israeli defense systems or intercepted by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

Biden has said he wants to prevent the conflict in the Middle East from spreading and urged caution, telling Israel to "think carefully and strategically" before launching a response against Iran that could trigger a wider war.

But Bolton, known as a proponent of American hard power, said that because Israel can't be sure that the next ballistic missiles launched from Iran won't contain nuclear warheads, it is in Israel's long-term interests to consider responding by destroying Iran's nuclear weapons program. And if Israel decided to do so, the United States should support the move, he said.

The April 13 attack has raised fears of another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, and the risks are high because "we're in uncharted territory," said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at the Bahrain-based Le Beck International consultancy.

A full-scale war is the nightmare scenario that could be triggered by an Israeli attack on nuclear sites in Iran, Horowitz said in an interview with RFE/RL on April 15.

"If we reach this point, we may see weeks of Israeli strikes in Iran, the full-scale engagement of Hizballah in an attack against Israel, an Israeli ground incursion in Lebanon, and Iranian attempts to close the Persian Gulf," Horowitz said.

The region is now "closer to such a scenario than we were before," and even if there is no specific trigger, a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between Iran and Israel "could get us there if outside parties don't act as they did so far to de-escalate tensions."

Bolton wrote the book Surrender Is Not An Option: Defending America At The United Nations after serving as U.S. ambassador to the UN from August 2005 until December 2006. As undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005, he advocated tough measures against the nuclear weapons programs of both Iran and North Korea.

In his interview with Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Bolton said Israel is already engaged in a war in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU, and has been attacked by Hizballah militants from the north.

In addition, he noted that Huthi rebels in Yemen backed by Iran have targeted international shipping in the Red Sea and there have been attacks by Iran-aligned militant groups in Iraq and Syria.

Bolton accused the Biden administration of refusing to look at the conflict in the Middle East in a strategic sense. He also said that all the terrorist groups operating in the region are armed, equipped, trained, and financed by Iran, thus as strong response is justified.

"Iran is the puppet master here. That's the wider war we're already in," he told Current Time. "This is not separate battles between Israel and Hamas and Gaza, or the Huthis trying to close the Red Sea in the Suez Canal to international commercial traffic. This is all controlled by Iran," he added.

He defended his criticism of Biden as "an embarrassment," saying the wider war that the U.S. administration and others say they fear already began on October 7, the day that Hamas militants attacked Israeli towns, taking around 250 hostages and killing more than 1,100 people. More than 100 hostages are still in captivity.

Bolton, who spent 17 months as an adviser to former President Donald Trump, said he could not predict what Israel's response will be nor the outcome of an Israeli war cabinet meeting on April 15, but said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows the Iran nuclear threat "better than anyone else in Israel or, frankly, in the United States."

If forced to predict, he said, he would say the response would be "lower level" and would come within a few days.

Bolton, Trump's third national-security adviser, was asked for his resignation in September 2019 after months of division over the direction of foreign and national-security policy.

Bolton wrote a book the following year about his time serving in the White House. The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir angered Trump for portraying him as ignorant of basic geopolitical facts. The White House tried to stop the book's release, but a judge denied its request. Trump reacted to the publication by calling Bolton "incompetent" and "a boring fool."

With reporting by Kian Sharifi
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