US National Security Adviser John Bolton met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday evening, telling the Israeli premier that Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs were “right at the top of the list” of challenges facing the United States and the world.
“It’s been an exciting year and a half in the Trump administration,” Bolton said, ahead of a joint dinner with Netanyahu. “Obviously we’ve got great challenges, for Israel, for the United States and the whole world. The Iran nuclear weapons program [and] the ballistic missile programs are right at the top of the list. So I’m delighted to be here, and look forward to our discussions.”
In a short joint media address at the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence, Netanyahu said their talks would focus mainly on “rolling back Iran’s aggression” in the Middle East.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israel’s envoy to the US Ron Dermer also attended the dinner.
Calling Bolton a “tremendous friend” of Israel, Netanyahu welcomed him and praised some of US President Donald Trump’s most notable decisions, such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the “terrible” 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
“I look forward to discussing with you a whole array of topics, but the most important one is how to continue to roll back Iran’s aggression in the region and to make sure that they never have nuclear weapons,” a smiling Netanyahu said. “Many other things, but I think this is a good starting point.”
Bolton was on his first visit to Israel since he replaced H.R. McMaster as Trump’s national security adviser in April. Following his trip to Israel, Bolton will travel to Ukraine and Geneva, where he will follow up with Russian officials on Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month in Helsinki.
Bolton and Netanyahu will hold their main meeting on Monday morning.
From Israel, Bolton earlier told ABC’s “This Week” that getting Iranian forces to withdraw from Syria was a goal shared by the Washington, Jerusalem, and Moscow.
“Certainly the objective of the United States, of Israel, President Putin said it was Russia’s objective is to get Iran — Iranian forces, Iranian militias, Iranian surrogates out of the offensive operations they’re in in both Syria and Iraq and frankly, to end Iran’s support for Hezbollah,” he said.
Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed terror group that seeks Israel’s destruction.
During their meeting in Helsinki, both Trump and Putin expressed their commitment to Israel’s security, with the latter saying the two agreed on securing Israel’s northern border with Syria in accordance with the 1974 disengagement agreement following the Yom Kippur War.
As pro-regime Syrian troops have returned to the border in recent months as part of a Russian-backed offensive, Israel has called for the upholding of the disengagement accord and maintaining the buffer zone on the Golan frontier, amid concerns Iranian-aligned forces could establish themselves in the area.
Bolton also said that the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord and the re-imposition of sanctions on Tehran had seriously weakened the regime.
“I think the president’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has put a real crimp into the Iranian economy,” he said. “I think they’re feeling it and their capability for the Quds Force or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to conduct offensive operations in – in the region here and in Yemen as well.”
He stressed that it was not only Iran’s nuclear aspirations that posed a threat to Middle East stability.
“I think this is part of the problem with the Iranian regime generally and why it’s such a threat to peace and security not just because of its nuclear program, but because of its military operations and its support for terrorism,” he said.
Bolton, an Iran hawk, was seen as a central player in the US decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May.
Few details were released on Bolton’s itinerary or his agenda for talks with Israeli officials. A US Embassy official said the discussions with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials would include “regional security issues.”
A former ambassador to the United Nations, Bolton in the past he has advocated for Israel carrying out military strikes against Iran. In March, former defense minister Shaul Mofaz said Bolton tried to convince him to carry out a preemptive strike on Iran in the mid 2000s.
Botlon visited Israel as undersecretary of state under president George W. Bush in 2004, holding meetings about sanctions against Iran.
Agencies contributed to this report.