'I wouldn't be completely optimistic' about Natanz damage

Bolton: Israel should act now in own security interests ahead of US election

In interview with Israeli radio station, former US national security adviser says Trump motivated by domestic audience, Kushner worried about Israeli unilateral annexation

US National Security Adviser John Bolton unveils the Trump administration's Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, December 13, 2018. (Cliff Owen/AP)
US National Security Adviser John Bolton unveils the Trump administration's Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, December 13, 2018. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Former US national security adviser John Bolton on Monday said anyone concerned with the Middle East should be worried about US President Donald Trump winning a second term in office, adding that the next few months are the optimal time for Israel to act in its own national security interests.

Bolton told Israel’s Army Radio he believed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark nuclear deal in 2018 was made for a domestic audience, which is why Israel should be concerned about what could happen in a potential second term when he is no longer seeking reelection.

“[Trump] is motivated much more by domestic American politics which is why if it turns out he is reelected in November, we don’t know what he is going to do once he is freed from electoral constraints,” Bolton said. “Which is why anyone who is concerned about what happens the Middle East should worry about what happens in a second term.”

When asked whether Trump’s potential reelection would be a blessing for Israel or put the country in danger, Bolton said he didn’t think that either Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden would be good for Israel.

In this file photo taken on April 9, 2018, US President Donald Trump shakes hands with National Security Adviser John Bolton during a meeting with senior military leaders at the White House. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

“I think the next few months are an optimal time for Israel to act in its own national security interests,” Bolton said, also noting he believed there was “zero chance” Trump would withdraw from the US election before November.

Bolton was also questioned about a series of unexplained explosions at sensitive sites in Iran, which some have speculated could be part of a sabotage campaign engineered by Israel or another Tehran foe.

“I don’t claim to have any special knowledge as to how these various events happened. They seem clearly aimed at the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Bolton said. “I think whoever is doing it, they have my complete support. Maybe it’s dissidents inside Iran, maybe with outside support, maybe a combination.”

However, the former US national security adviser cautioned against being sure that the July 2 explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility had set the program back 1.5 or two years, as some have suggested.

“The damage we can see above ground to the building that was a manufacturing facility for their most sophisticated centrifuge appears to be considerable. But we don’t know what is going on in the centrifuge halls below, so I wouldn’t be completely optimistic. But it shows the ayatollahs that somebody can get even into their most sensitive locations,” he said.

This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Israeli TV reports, without naming sources, have said the blast destroyed the laboratory in which Iran developed faster centrifuges and set back the Iranian nuclear program by one or two years. An unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence official told The New York Times Israel was behind the explosion.

The explosion and fire, however, did not strike the underground centrifuge halls where thousands of first-generation gas centrifuges still spin, enriching uranium up to 4.5% purity.

The US abandoned the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018, imposing sanctions on Iran and sparking a steady rise in tensions between the two countries. The 2015 deal promised Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limiting its atomic activities.

Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has broken all the accord’s production limits.

Bolton was forced out of the adviser position by Trump last September, and late last month released a tell-all book about his time at the White House titled “The Room Where It Happened.”

Trump’s administration had sought to halt publication of Bolton’s book, but a US judge refused to block its release, saying it was too late for a restraining order.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

Bolton’s book revealed that Trump gave Netanyahu the green light to attack Iran, and that Netanyahu had reservations about Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner as the architect of the White House peace plan.

Bolton also claimed in the book that Netanyahu tried numerous times to speak with Trump to implore him not to meet with Iran’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the 2019 G7 meeting in France, but Kushner blocked the calls — a move Bolton said he disagreed with.

“I think it shows the danger when you have somebody who is not in a regular organization in power like that. It is always a danger with family members in senior position,” Bolton said Tuesday, referring to Kushner. “I thought Netanyahu should be heard.”

Bolton on Tuesday also discussed Netanyahu’s efforts to unilaterally annex settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, some 30 percent of the territory, which have apparently stalled amid internal wrangling and a lack of a green light from Washington.

“I think there is obviously disagreement. Jared is still trying to sustain his peace plan and is worried about unilateral action or American recognition of unilateral action,” Bolton said. “Personally I would go ahead and do it but I’m not there to give that advice any more.”

Bolton concluded the interview by attacking Trump for ignoring warnings at the start of the year of the coming pandemic, and for not having an effective strategy to deal with the outbreak as cases surge and the US economy falters.

“I think it goes back to January, February — he didn’t want to listen to the warnings he was being given about the potential dangers of the virus, so much time was lost,” Bolton said. “I don’t think even to this day he has an overall strategy with the pandemic and I think as it is becoming clear as we get resurgences in different states and the economy begins to stutter, he just doesn’t know what to do.”

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