In Israel, Bolton warns Iran not to mistake US ‘prudence’ for ‘weakness’

In Israel, Bolton warns Iran not to mistake US ‘prudence’ for ‘weakness’

After Trump calls off retaliatory strike, his national security adviser says Tehran has not been granted a ‘hunting license in Middle East’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)
US National Security Adviser John Bolton, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Iran should not misinterpret US President Donald Trump’s decision not to retaliate over the shooting down of an American drone last week as weakness, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Sunday in Jerusalem.

“Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness. No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East,” he said before a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Friday, Trump acknowledged that he had ordered a halt to a planned strike on three Iranian military sites that would have killed 150 people, reasoning that the death toll was disproportionate to Iran’s shooting down of an unmanned drone earlier last week over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran argues the drone had crossed into Iranian airspace, a claim Washington denies.

Bolton, known as one of the most hawkish senior members of the administration, arrived in Israel on Saturday to attend a tripartite meeting Tuesday of the national security advisers of the US, Israel and Russia.

“As we meet, threats to international peace and security in the Middle East and around the world are on the rise,” Bolton said.

“Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons; its threats to exceed the limits set in the failed nuclear deal in the coming days; its continuing buildup of menacing Quds Force capabilities in Syria and Iraq; its supply of sophisticated drones, missiles and other advanced weapons to hostile surrogate forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan; and continued threat and acts of aggression against Israel, our allies in the Arabian Gulf and against US personal and assets across the Middle East, are not signs of a nation seeking peace.”

Bolton went on to quote Trump, who over the weekend reiterated that Iran will “never” be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, saying that the US military “is rebuilt, new and ready to go,” and that US-imposed economic sanctions “are biting.”

Additional sanctions will be formally announced on Monday, Bolton confirmed.

Netanyahu thanked Bolton for standing with Israel and coming to Jerusalem this week to discuss the “enormous challenges we face together in the Middle East, particularly at this sensitive time.”

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The prime minister went on to argue that Iran has increased its regional aggression ever since the 2015 nuclear deal, which brought the regime sanctions relief and substantial cash payments.

“The supporters of the Iran deal argued that the infusion of massive cash into Iran’s economy would moderate Iran. They argued that Iran would become inward-focused, would start nation-building. And in fact, the very opposite is happening,” he said.

“Iran used those hundreds of billions of dollars to fund empire building, not nation building,” he continued, warning that the Islamic Republic is “devouring one state after the other.”

Israel sees Iran’s aggression in its increased effort to establish military bases in Syria and and to provide sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah and other proxies, the prime minister said.

“Likewise, our Arab neighbors say exactly the same thing. They saw Iran’s aggression and Iran’s increased support from terror groups that threaten them, from the Shiite militias in Iraq to the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.

“So I was pleased to hear President Trump make clear yesterday that pressure will continue, and that pressure will increase,” Netanyahu said.

Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from the deal designed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief, and reinstated measures designed to choke off Iranian oil sales and cripple its economy.

As part of the spike in tensions, the US has beefed up its military presence in the Middle East and blamed Iran, as reportedly did Israel, for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran denies any responsibility.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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