1. A time-change shortened night in Israel still had enough time to see the latest major upheaval in the US, with hawkish former UN envoy John Bolton appointed to replace H.R. McMaster as US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
- The gloriously mustachioed Bolton is seen across the board as something of a war-monger, counseling pre-emptive strikes in North Korea and Iran. “Over the years, Mr. Bolton’s uncompromising views on foreign policy have both raised concerns and grabbed headlines,” writes The New York Times.
- Bolton’s arrival is seen as especially bad news for the Iran nuclear deal, already under threat of toppling. “Bolton’s appointment raises the likelihood that Trump will decide to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal,” Haaretz reports, calling him a “super-hawk.”
- Yet CNN’s White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins writes on Twitter that a source told her that, during negotiations for Bolton to take the job, he promised Trump “he wouldn’t start any wars” if picked to head the National Security Council.
Trump and Bolton have been discussing for weeks how he could replace McMaster. According to what a source familiar with those negotiations told me, Bolton promised Trump "he wouldn't start any wars" if he selected him as the new national security adviser.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) March 22, 2018
- The Wall Street Journal notes that Trump and Bolton are not in lockstep about everything. “During the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Bolton, then undersecretary of state for arms control, staunchly supported the invasion of Iraq, championing the now-discredited view that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Trump has denounced the invasion as a mistake,” the paper reports. “The other area of potential disagreement is how to approach Russia. Mr. Trump has said he wants to improve relations and ease tensions between the two countries.”
2. Overlooked but perhaps just as telling are Bolton’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- “With the White House preparing to unveil its Mideast peace plan in the near future, the ascension of Bolton, who has declared the two-state solution dead, could further chill the administration’s chances of getting moribund negotiations off the ground,” Eric Cortellessa writes in The Times of Israel, citing a 2016 radio interview with Brietbart Radio.
- Bolton also wrote an op-ed in 2014 proposing a three-state solution, the three being Israel, which would keep some of the West Bank, Egypt, which would get Gaza, and Jordan, which would get the rest of the West Bank. “The ‘three-state solution’ will not be achieved easily, but it at least has the virtue of being realistic and workable,” he wrote at the time.
- Realistic may be a stretch. Jordan and Egypt have both consistently rejected the idea when it comes up, which it does from time to time despite being on the fringe of policy thought.
- “Bolton has shown little understanding for the challenges that Israel faces if it is to remain a secure and democratic homeland for the Jewish people. He has opposed US leadership toward a two-state solution and savaged the efforts the Obama administration has made to help bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to that longstanding bipartisan goal,” dovish Israel lobby J Street writes in a statement, roasting the choice.
3. Bolton also wrote an op-ed in 2007 hinting at the existence of a North Korean nuclear facility in Syria, mere days before Israel carried out an airstrike on the facility, an operation declassified for publication earlier this week and which continues to reverberate through the country’s defense community and others.
- Most of the coverage continues to center around the infighting between former leaders and former top spies over who gets the credit for the operation and who should be blamed for not spotting the Syrians building the facility sooner.
- Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea calls the fighting “infantile.” “Could it be that what has turned the operation into something so emotional is the fact that since then there has not been an operation so successful? That over 10 years later, all the institutions connected to the successful September night — including the prime minister, defense Ministry, the Mossad, Military Intelligence, the IDF, and Israel Air Force — have struggled to achieve anything like it and are forced to make do with the adventures of what once was,” he writes.
- It’s unclear “who the audience is for all these fights. After all, most Israelis are just glad the damn thing was destroyed,” TOI’s Judah Ari Gross notes.
4. Some have seen the Syria strike as a morality tale for Iran, which should be worried about another Israeli attack against its own nuclear program. In Haaretz, though, Amos Harel notes that one should not be so naive as to compare the two countries.
- “The Iranian nuclear program is a far more complicated challenge. It’s spread over many sites, twice the distance from Israel as the reactor the North Koreans built for Bashar Assad’s regime at Deir el-Zour,” he writes.
5.Whereas Netanyahu has reportedly dithered upon being met with American opposition to a strike on Iran, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert inflates himself as the decisive hero standing up to the skittish Americans in a larger excerpt from his book published Friday in Yedioth (which also happens to be the books’ publisher).
- “I didn’t ask, I didn’t request, I didn’t wait for an okay. I said definitively: You are out? Okay. We are in!” he writes, though in actuality he did seek American support for the mission.
- Told by US officials Eliot Abrams and Stephen Hadley that president George W. Bush will be mad at him for telling the administration not to bother sending Condoleezza Rice to talk it over, Olmert writes that “Abrams said he waited for Bush to make some angry comment, but instead he smiled widely and said ‘I love that guy. He’s braver than anyone.’”
6. Olmert’s book is widely credited with being the impetus behind the military censor okaying publication of details of the strike, sparking questions over why it or anything else gets censored in the first place.
- Israel’s policy of pretending it had nothing to do with attacks it is obvious it took part in, to give Syrian President Bashar Assad or others room to avoid hitting Israel back, is not good enough, Haaretz’s lead editorial reads.
- “When the military censor blocks any reporting on the decision-making process that preceded the cross-border operations, the public is forced to blindly rely on Netanyahu, the members of the security cabinet, and the IDF’s commanders. This ‘room for denial,’ created to prevent an external escalation, also works largely inward, and gives the government and the military immunity from criticism of their decisions and actions.”
7. Pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom puts the Syria strike squabbling to the side, going back to its favorite subject of joining the current prime minister’s attacks on the police and media over investigations against him. “If there wouldn’t be Bibi, there wouldn’t be investigations,” the paper’s top headline reads, quoting Netanyahu alleging a witch hunt against him at an event for Likud supporters.
- Police chief Roni Alsheich, the target of much of Netanyahu’s denunciations, tells the Makor Rishon newspaper that he’s actually receiving mostly support from the public, despite him being demonized in some corners for investigating Netanyahu.
- “I mostly hear words of backing and encouragement, more than before. In general, the public strengthens me very very much.”
8. Forget flying over Syria. Planes to and from Israel have started flying over Saudi Arabia for the first time, with Air India’s inaugural flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv landing late Thursday night.
- This is just the start of what Israel is hoping will flower into a stronger relationship with Kingdom, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin tells the Press Trust India news service.
- “We have to be very cautious. This is really a first step — a very important one… I hope with times we have more and more normal relation with our neighbour in this region,” he says.
- Israel Hayom notes that the new route puts El-Al at an unfair disadvantage, since it still has to skirt the Arabian peninsula. Nonetheless, the Israeli carrier still congratulates Air India on the new route.
The first Air India direct flight to Israel through Saudi airspace reflects the positive change which is gradually taking place in the region. I hope that in the not so distant future Israeli carriers like El Al will also be allowed to use this route. pic.twitter.com/T0i9xXfe5a
— ישראל כ”ץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) March 23, 2018