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John Bolton: Bibi Netanyahu Could Upend Biden’s Weak Foreign Policy

Joe Biden Netanyahu
Vice President Joe Biden visit to Israel March 2016.

Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, victor in its fifth national election in four years, is forming his seventh government (surpassed there only by David Ben-Gurion).  Netanyahu’s coalition won a clear Knesset majority (by Israeli standards), 64 seats out of 120, but few recent governments have emerged easily. This new one is no exception, but the current tumult over Cabinet positions should not distract outside observers or Israeli politicians from what will follow thereafter.

For whatever is the duration of Netanyahu’s new government, and whatever the allocation of Cabinet positions, the critical reality is that Israeli national-security policy will rest essentially in his hands. He has firm, long-standing views on critical issues which will inevitably, and probably quickly, bring him into sharp conflict with President Joe Biden, both men’s emollient assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. How Washington responds to Jerusalem’s new government could materially affect Biden’s own foreign-policy legacy over what could be his last two years in office.

Even before then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned against an Iranian “nuclear Holocaust,” Netanyahu grasped that Tehran’s nuclear weapons were the existential threat facing Israel. In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address:  “[W]e will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory. If regime change prevails in Iran and the new leaders understand that seeking nuclear weapons endangers Iran’s security, the need to destroy the nuclear program will diminish substantially, perhaps totally. And the likelihood of a post-ayatollahs’ regime supporting international terrorism is highly remote.

Obtaining full Israeli diplomatic recognition across the Arab world constitutes a closely related Netanyahu priority. Iran’s nuclear, conventional, and terrorist threats reordered the priorities of all the other regional governments in ways the Administration has yet to grasp. These tectonic shifts in the Middle East’s geostrategic alignments engendered the Abraham Accords, normalizing Israel’s relations with four Arab states. 

Ironically, Israel under Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia will be more closely aligned strategically than today either is with Washington. Even if Riyadh and Jerusalem do not achieve full diplomatic relations in the immediate future, widespread cooperation against the common Iranian threat is certain. Given Biden’s dim view of the Saudis (and other oil-producing and therefore climate-despoiling Arab monarchies), such politico-military teamwork, especially if it facilitates miliary action against Tehran, won’t improve US-Israeli relations any time soon.

 The Abraham Accords demonstrate that the Palestinian issue has tacitly become a second-tier matter, particularly for the Gulf Arabs, which is hardly Biden’s view, and a major reason he shuns the Abraham Accords. Instead, his eagerness to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal is mirrored by his desire to resurrect the long-dormant “Middle East peace process,” and a “two-state solution,” for the Palestinians. 

Even under the now-fallen Bennett-Lapid government (whose settlements policy was not far distant from Netanyahu’s), the Administration has repeatedly warned against any attempted Israeli annexation of the West Bank, and criticized Israeli settlement policy in that disputed territory. Controversies over the handling of the Temple Mount cannot be far behind, especially given the major role in Netanyahu’s coalition of decidedly pro-settler parties. The underlying Washington-Jerusalem divergence on the very legitimacy of a “two-state solution” promises nothing but controversy.

One issue on the front burner right now is the report that America’s Department of Justice will conduct an unprecedented investigation of the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on the West Bank. In the hard-to-believe category, the White House and State Department quickly denied any knowledge of the investigation, and Justice and the FBI declined to comment. To justify jurisdiction for the probe, officials have quietly pointed to statutory authority regarding crimes committed against Americans overseas by terrorists(), but that authority is dubious in Abu Akleh’s circumstances. In any case, Israel will flatly not cooperate. This is the sort of spark that can inflame any bilateral relationship, but especially an already sensitive one.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs, that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden Administration.  

There are many other easily foreseeable potential flashpoints. Under its previous government, for example, Israel was widely criticized for decidedly underwhelming support for Ukraine, largely attributed to the need to mollify Moscow so Israeli strikes against Iranian and other terrorist forces in Syria could proceed unimpeded. And, during the recent campaign, Netanyahu called a deal to delineate the Israeli-Lebanon maritime border, thus enabling exploitation of undersea natural-gas fields, a “historic surrender”. There are more, such as the West’s tenuous relationship with Turkey, and how it might affect Israel. Netanyahu has yet to make many critical decisions, to which Biden’s responses are equally unknown. 

Some say Biden and Netanyahu need each other politically, albeit for decidedly different reasons, so there is little to worry about. That is not what history teaches. And Netanyahu is likely a man in a hurry. Biden may be as well, writing a prescription for contentiousness.

Ambassador John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald J. Trump. He is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” You can follow him on Twitter: @AmbJohnBolton.

Note: This piece has been updated to fix a small lettering mistake. 

Written By

Ambassador John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald J. Trump. He is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” You can follow him on Twitter: @AmbJohnBolton.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Commentar

    November 27, 2022 at 6:42 pm

    Netanyahu’s return to power is just the perfect ingredient in biden’s recipe or formula for generating a spanking brand new world war to build a brand new world order.

    Who could have asked for more.

    With turkiye threatening to invade syria (again) in retaliation for the recent bomb explosion in istanbul, and extreme rightist netanyahu now coming back to power, biden has everything in place for forging a totally new & brand new militarized national and global foreign policy of the kind not seen since 1939.

    Biden must be salivating at the prospect of witnessing truly unreal or surreal developments in the coming weeks and months.

    Hooyah ww3, hooyah !

  2. Commentar

    November 27, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Netanyahu in august 2018 made a visit to the dimona nuclear plant and made a short speech in ehich he said “the weak are slaughtered and only the strong will survive” in defense of his country’s nukes.

    Biden surely can’t recall that speech which was first uttered by adolf hitler way back in 1923, but doesn’t matter, happy days are back again.

  3. Arash

    November 27, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    1-There is no scenario in which Israel survives an attack on Iran.

    2-Abandon the delusion that Iran’s nuclear program will ever go away.
    Even regime change will not end Iran’s nuclear program. Nuclear program is a source of national pride for us. It has nothing to do with any “regime”.
    I don’t see people in more democratic countries that posses nukes marching in the streets demanding an end to their nuclear status!

    Majority of Iranians want their country to be a nuclear weapons state.

    Iran is the new nuclear power, from now, until the end of time.
    Make your peace with it.

  4. Jack

    November 27, 2022 at 8:58 pm

    As soon as Iran gets deliverable Nuke they will launch it towards Israel and that will be the end of Iran.

    Iran knows they will pay a terrible price for striking Israel with a Nuke but they will not be able to resist

  5. Commentar

    November 27, 2022 at 9:47 pm

    While US and western media are busily hollering about Iranian threats partly to win saudi arabian friendship and partly to advance DoD war plans, nothing’s been said about the massive and growing US Navy’s presence in the persian gulf.

    Also not mentioned or greatly ignored are the regular military strikes on syria conducted by both israeli and turkish forces.

    It’s a very revealing picture of the current situation today where rules are written or laid down to favor the rich and powerful countries of the world.

    Humanity hasn’t significantly progressed one little bit since the end of the global colonial era or colonial masters era in the period following the end of ww2.

    Thus, all nations, particularly oppressed nations or nations suffering endless sanctions, economic strangulation, financial blockade, import bans & boycotts must develop nuclear weapins & nuclear arsenals.

    Russia can help by providing nuclear tech and nuclear delivery systems like the poseidon underwater drone to all the oppressed nations.

  6. ian

    November 28, 2022 at 12:30 am

    ” If regime change prevails in Iran and the new leaders understand that seeking nuclear weapons endangers Iran’s security, the need to destroy the nuclear program will diminish substantially, perhaps totally.”

    You advocate regime change and you wonder why the want nuclear weapons? And how do we prevail on the new people in charge to not continue to pursue nuclear weapons, should they not see it the way you do? The only way to be sure would be to occupy the country and enforce a regime to our liking. If only there was one or even two neighboring countries that we had tried that on recently to see if such an occupation was a worthwhile endeavor…

    Additionally, it saddens me that you don’t think pursuing meaningful statehood and rights for Palestinians is a worthwhile goal. They deserve the same security and self-determination as Israelis.

  7. Yrral

    November 28, 2022 at 8:13 am

    Waiting for the Periah

  8. Fred Adams

    November 28, 2022 at 10:40 am

    Iran is a terrorist state. It cannot be allowed nuclear weapons under any circumstance. The world is worried that a relatively sane Putin will use nukes. How much greater should be its concern that a 7th century religious maniac will do so ? The region has feared Iranian (Persian) aggression from the time of the Achaemenids, nearly 2500 years ago. Cyrus the Great was held to be a benign ruler, something that cannot be said of today’s ayatollahs.

    Under the Ottoman Empire, no one wanted to live in Israel, because it was dry and harsh, languishing in poverty for 1200 years after being a prosperous region in ancient times. Repeated attempts by the OE to recruit inhabitants for this empty land uniformly failed. A late 19th century census put the population at about 160,000, about half Christian, Jew and Druse, half Muslim. Zionist immigrants bought the land and through ambitious irrigation projects made it prosper.

    Palestinians are a “people” imported into Israel lands between 1900 and 1947, by the efforts of the resident British and Arab entities. They hark from other Arab countries, and their forefathers weren’t by any description Palestinian. Most resident Arabs left Israel just before the ’48 war, urged by Arab states and opinion leaders to do so, on the promise of a return after the Jews were all killed. That didn’t happen; Israeli offers of a return were ignored. Meanwhile, half a million Jews were dispossessed of their homes and property by Arab states, booted out, most absorbed penniless by Israel. Israel’s actions during this period toward area Arabs was morally faultless and in accordance with international law.

    In 1947, the Jordanian state was created, taking more than half the land ceded by Arab King Saud in 1921 for a Jewish state. Thus, the two-state solution has been tried. It did not solve the “Palestinian problem” because Arab states disallowed citizenship for those Arabs who fled Israel in the ’48 war, and refused them entry, having ejected an equal number of Jews. Arab states and their response to the ’48 war are directly responsible for the present day plight of the “Palestinian”. Responsible for Palestinian misery, the Arab states do not hesitate to make maximum use of their suffering for Anti-Israel propaganda purposes.

  9. Jim

    November 28, 2022 at 11:18 am

    Off topic: Trump’s shtick is “old and tired.”

    Yes, it is… and many Republicans see that besides John Bolton.

    His shtick is polarizing… Trump is the second most polarizing president in American History.

    That is what I worry about… Trump’s overwhelming polarizing personality freezes and promotes an electorate that has a “closed mind” to sold ideas.

    Trump’s presence on the political stage retards the “give & take” and discussion, even polite argument America needs to move forward.

    Trump locks in a hardening of attitudes and an unwillingness to have good faith discussion across the political divide.

    What America needs is open discussion.

    Are these bad ideas?

    1. Control the border.

    2. Get trade policies (particularly China) in good order.

    3. End the forever wars.

    4. Promote an independent energy policy… inexpensive energy which gives America a competitive advantage vis-a-vis the rest of the world… and citizens with low energy bills… heating, electricity, and transportation.

    Because Trump is so polarizing the good ideas get lost in the political divisiveness he promotes.

    The first time for Trump (2016) was refreshing and new, but now it is “old & tired”…

    One of the few times I agree with John Bolton.

    It’s time to move beyond Donald Trump… he’s yesterday’s news… he’s the liner on the bottom of the parakeet’s cage.

  10. David Chang

    November 29, 2022 at 9:16 am

    God bless people in the world.

    Democratic-Republican Party oppose Trump and Kissinger, but at least, Trump and Kissinger do something right. They hope that people will be under God, and determine policy by Ten Commandments.

    But Democratic-Republican Party don’t obey Ten Commandments since 1776, and do not repent to God after Civil War.

    So after the 19th century, Democratic Party cooperate with Communist Party to promote socialism, but Republican Party do not stop Democratic Party, instead of Eisenhower.

    As Korea War, Vietnam War, and Iraq War, Democratic party keep to wage wars with the Communist Party around the world, but Republican Party do not stop Democratic Party.

    Although people in America die in foreign wars, U.S. military captured the socialist Saddam Hussein in exchange for another socialist Moqtada Al Sadr.

    Even Mr. Bolton talk about Abraham Accords, but Mr. Netanyahu received the socialism education implemented by Israel Communist Party from childhood, and does not obey Ten Commandments. So the socialism warfare in Israel is just like Ukraine war and one-China war.

    After God has sent them in flight from before us, say not in our heart, Because of my righteousness God has given me this land; when it is because of their Sin that God is driving these nations out before us. Not for our righteousness or because our hearts are upright are we going in to take their land; but because of the Sin of these nations our God is driving them out from before us, and to give effect to God’s oath to us. Be certain then that our God is not giving us this good land as a reward for our righteousness; for us are a stiff-necked people. Keep well in mind how we make God angry in the world.

    Therefore, we should remember the Sin in Korea War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, Afghan War, and Ukraine War. Our military should obey Ten Commandments. If we follow Jesus to obey Ten Commandments, people in the world will do the same and never believe socialism, evolution, and liberation theology again.

    God bless America.

  11. Yrral

    November 30, 2022 at 7:14 am

    Chang,as much hell that have been reaped upon the world,God will have to work overtime to overcome all the misery that had beset humankind

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