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The New Iranian President and Donald Trump

Masoud Pezeshkian probably never expected to become Iran’s President, nor did most of his countrymen, nor the outside world.  Whatever the reasons for his success, Pezeshkian’s victory means only that Tehran now shows a smiley face to foreigners rather than a mean face.  Beneath surface appearances, nothing substantive has changed.

Westerners especially have long misunderstood that Iran’s elected Presidency does not hold decisive political power, certainly not on Tehran’s critical national-security priorities like nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and supporting innumerable terrorist groups.  Ayatollah Khamenei is the Supreme Leader, like his predecessor and father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.  “Supreme Leader.”  That title tells you everything.

Elections for Iran’s presidency are hardly free and open.  To start, only candidates satisfactory to the Guardian Council may run, and the Council has never been slack in applying rigid ideological standards.  The races are ultimately never more than hardline-hardliners running against moderate-hardliners.  If the Guardian Council had wanted to exclude Pezeshkian from the election, they could have.  If they wanted to ensure he lost, they could have allowed multiple “moderates” in the race and only one “hardliner.”  Instead, they did the opposite, and Pezeshkian prevailed.  If the regime had really been worried about such an outcome, it would simply have stolen the election, as in 2009.  Interestingly, voter turnout figures remain hotly disputed, so we may never know exactly how many people legitimately cast ballots.

Until the regime finally issues a definitive statement on why Pezeshkian’s predecessor, Ebrahim Raisi, died in a helicopter crash, questions about regime stability will linger.  Whatever the cause of the crash, Pezeshkian is an accidental President.  For Raisi, the presidency may well have been but a steppingstone, given Khamenei’s age and infirmities.  He had been fingered by the Supreme Leader and others as potentially Iran’s third Supreme Leader upon Khamenei’s death or incapacity.  Pezeshkian, by contrast, seems to be a temporary fill-in, even more of a figurehead than other Presidents, until the key ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guard decide how to proceed.

Over 45 years, Iran’s two Supreme Leaders, through successive presidencies, have never deviated from their fundamental national-security precepts:  (1) pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile delivery capabilities;  and (2) creating and enhancing multiple terrorist proxies across the Middle East and globally.  These have been foundational both to Tehran’s hegemonic regional ambitions and its broader aspirations for dominance in the Islamic world.  No mere substitute President is going to obstruct that strategic vision.

What Pezeshkian does for the mullahs is to provide what Russians call “maskirovka”:  camouflage that disguises Iran’s real foreign policy.  Like other puppets and front men Tehran has used over the years, including former Foreign Minister Javid Zarif and Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator now nestled comfortably at Princton, Pezeshkian is a walking, talking disinformation campaign.  Susceptible Westerners, longing for resumed nuclear talks with Iran, now have a straw to grasp at.  Nothing will come from any resumed diplomacy, of course, because there is no sign Iran the Supreme leader has made a strategic decision to change course.

Ironically, therefore, the mullahs have scored a public-relations coup by having an empty suit like Pezeshkian replace Raisi, widely called “the butcher of Tehran” for his judicial role in ordering executions of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of political prisoners.   If Pezeshkian chooses to attend the UN General Assembly opening in New York this September, one can imagine the welcome America’s credulous media and academic institutions will afford him.  He smiles, he waves, he acts informally, perhaps he likes progressive jazz, maybe he drinks a little Scotch whiskey in private (who knows!), he must want to make a deal the United States!

US liberals and the Biden Administration can dream about this scenario, but they may not be in office after November’s election.  Even if they were, of course, the compliant Pezeshkian they imagine would not be making nuclear-weapons policy, nor would his Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, chief negotiator of the 2015 nuclear deal.  Americans are all too apt to succumb to the diplomatic phenomenon known as “mirror imaging,” where negotiators look across the table and see people just like themselves:  reasonable men and women simply looking to find practical solutions to shared problems.  That’s exactly opposite from how the Islamic Revolution views the outside world.

Instead, if Donald Trump wins, now more likely than ever after the failed July 13 assassination attempt, his propensity to treat national-security issues simply as opportunities for making deals could lead to a Trump-Pezeshkian get-together.  French President Emmanuel Macron almost seduced Trump into meeting with Zarif on the margins of the Biarritz G-7 in August, 2019.  Trump’s “zeal for the deal” brought him within an eyelash of seeing Zarif, and foreshadows a contemporary version of that meeting early in a new Trump term.  It may take second place to Trump visiting North Korean leader Kim Jung Un in Pyongyang to reopen nuclear negotiations, but it suits Trump’s singular focus on personal publicity.

Thus, while Pezeshkian’s election as President may not have been conscious Iranian maskirovka, there is no doubt the Supreme Leader and his cohorts can take advantage of the opportunity presented if they so choose.  Such circumstances do not mean a new nuclear deal would emerge, since that would certainly not be Tehran’s negotiating objective.  Instead, the mullahs would be playing for more time, which is uniformly beneficial to would-be nuclear proliferators, hoping to achieve a nuclear-weapons capability, and then to decide how to employ it.  The same would be true for Iran’s terrorist objectives in the region and beyond.  Trump would not even realize he was playing according to the Supreme Leader’s script.

Although the unsuspecting Masoud Pezeshkian may not realize it, he may be exactly the gift the ayatollahs never thought to ask for.

This article was first published in the Independent Arabia on July 16, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Biden Goes to Extremes to Appease Tehran

The world has truly turned upside down when a U.S. president begs America’s allies to have a United Nations agency go easy on a terrorist nuclear proliferator. The Biden administration’s reported pleading on behalf of Iran isn’t merely a tactical error about yet another biodegradable U.N. resolution. It’s a persistent strategic blindness that existentially threatens key U.S. partners and endangers our own peace and security.

Iran’s largely successful effort to conceal critical aspects of its nuclear-weapons complex from scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western intelligence services is nearing culmination. IAEA reports about Iran’s uranium-enrichment program—and Tehran’s disdain for IAEA inspections, extending over two decades—finally have the Europeans worried.

Instead of welcoming this awakening, President Biden is reportedly lobbying European allies to avoid a tough anti-Iran resolution at this week’s quarterly IAEA board of governors meeting. The administration denies it. But limpness on Iran’s nuclear threat fits the Obama-Biden pattern of missing the big picture, before and after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, including cash-for-hostages swaps with Iran as recently as last year.

Mr. Biden has two objectives. The first is to keep gasoline prices low and foreign distractions to a minimum before November’s election. The second is the Obama-Biden obsession with appeasing Iran’s ayatollahs, hoping they will become less medieval and more compliant if treated nicely. Both objectives are misguided, even dangerous.

Election worries about gas prices have also weakened U.S. sanctions against Russia, which are failing because of their contradictory goals. It simply isn’t possible to restrict Russian revenue while keeping U.S. pump prices low. The ayatollahs don’t worry about elections, but they know weakness when they see it, including Mr. Biden’s relaxed enforcement of sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

Mr. Biden’s greater mistake is refusing to acknowledge Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy to intimidate Israel and achieve regional hegemony over the oil-producing monarchies and other inconvenient Arab states. The foundational muscle for achieving these quasi-imperial aspirations is Iran’s nuclear program, precisely the issue at the IAEA. Starting in his 2020 campaign, Mr. Biden repeatedly alienated Gulf Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, which felt particularly threatened by his zeal to rejoin the failed 2015 nuclear deal. Mr. Biden’s willingness to exclude Israel and the Arabs from negotiations with Tehran, as Mr. Obama did, convinced Arab governments that Washington was again hopelessly feckless. Israel concurred.

Arab leaders privately see the need to eliminate Tehran’s terrorist proxies. Saying so publicly, however—even quietly—requires political cover, which Washington has failed to provide. The Biden administration could have sought to destroy, not merely inhibit, the Iran-backed Houthis’ capacity to close shipping routes in the Suez Canal and Red Sea. Since the U.S. failed to do so, rising prices from higher shipping costs increase the risk of a de facto Iran-Houthi veto over freedom of the seas. Not surprisingly, Iran now threatens to blockade Israel itself.

Mr. Biden decided to concentrate world attention on Gaza rather than on Iran as the puppet-master. Doing so has helped obscure that Gaza is only one component of the larger ring-of-fire threat. Many Israelis, including several members of the war cabinet, have long focused on the close-to-home threat of Palestinian terrorists rather than the existential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. This joint failure enabled Tehran’s propaganda to outmatch Jerusalem’s, leaving the false impression of a moral equivalence.

Had the U.S. and Israel explained the barbarity of Oct. 7 in such broader strategic terms, they would necessarily have concentrated attention on Iran’s coming succession crisis. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is old and ailing. President Ebrahim Raisi’s still-unexplained demise has already launched a succession struggle that could transform Iran. The U.S. and its allies should help the Iranian opposition fracture the Islamic Revolution at the top. Instead, Mr. Biden, who couldn’t conceive of overthrowing the ayatollahs, has dispatched envoys to beg Iran not to stir things up further before November.

Sending Tehran what diplomats call a “strong message” from the IAEA isn’t much, but treating Iran as if it calls the shots is far worse. Praying that Mr. Biden wakes up to reality may be the world’s only hope.

This article was first published in the Wall Street Journal on June 4, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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The ICC and the ICJ Manage to Make Things Worse

Intervening last week against Israel’s self-defense actions toward Iran and Hamas, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice made resolving the war harder.

The courts’ actions are fundamentally illegitimate, and their meddling portends further involvement, which could be even more unhelpful. Despite the troubles the ICC and ICJ are causing, Israel and its allies should not be dissuaded from destroying Hamas’s politico-military capabilities.

The United States is not a party to the ICC’s foundational treaty, having unsigned it in 2002. And over time, Washington has renounced the ICJ’s major jurisdictions, leaving only treaties where the court has never been invoked. Similarly, Israel never joined the ICC and has rejected ICJ jurisdiction on Gaza and West Bank matters. One immediate lesson for both countries is to withdraw completely from any remaining ICJ jurisdictions.

Although Israel is bearing the ICC and ICJ’s wrath for now, Jerusalem has long served as a canary in the coal mine for Washington, giving advance warning of pending threats America may experience later. Faced with Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy, implemented through attacks by Tehran’s terrorist proxies, Israel is acting in self-defense to eliminate Hamas as a fighting force.

Hamas’s barbaric policy of using Gaza’s civilian population as human shields, hoping to spare itself, has incalculably increased the inherent difficulties of urban combat. The terrorists believe that by sacrificing enough civilians, they can mobilize international pressure to stop Israel from achieving its objectives. Provoking investigations by the ICC’s rogue prosecutor and inducing international allies like South Africa to initiate ICJ cases, Hamas aims to increase the political pressure under ostensibly legal guises. Iran and its terrorist allies thereby seek to make Israelis feel increasingly isolated internationally and thereby pressure Jerusalem to back down.

Israelis should not fear being isolated for defending themselves. Who else will defend them if they do not? Jerusalem need not comply with political decrees by courts so illusory they cannot enforce their decisions. Indeed, scrutinizing the ICJ’s May 24 decision and its obtuse, international-legalese wording, Israel concluded it need not change its Gaza military operations. Although widely reported as ordering Israel to cease the Gaza offensive, the ICJ’s operative language actually demands only that Israel “halt its military offensive … which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Since Israel’s operations target Hamas, not all Palestinians, Israel sees its current approach as legitimate even by ICJ standards. That interpretation may sound Jesuitical, but it also demonstrates yet again why judicial intervention in wars is fanciful at best.

Unfortunately, however, the propaganda consequences look far different. Immediately after the ICC prosecutor announced he sought an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reporters asked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s press spokesman if Germany would execute the warrant. The aide replied, “Of course. Yes, we abide by the law.” While Scholz himself later tried to soften the blow, the point had been made.

Propaganda by Iran, its terrorist surrogates, and its leftist supporters worldwide has outmatched Israel’s during this conflict, except for the weeks immediately after Hamas’s Oct. 7 barbarities. Undoubtedly, ICC and ICJ actions will now take center stage in that propaganda, fueled by each new utterance from The Hague.

But the problems are far deeper than mere public relations failures. In America, for example, university protests and surprising polling results show astounding support for Hamas, especially among younger voters. Faculty prejudices have obviously grown worse over time, even as baby boomer professors reach retirement age. Reform of faculty selection and tenure decisions, among other things, is essential in public and private universities alike. This means little near-term, but could be dispositive for the U.S.-Israel special relationship in the long term. In Europe, if anything, anti-Israeli sentiment and outright antisemitism are even worse.

In a perfect world, Israel’s information statecraft and that of its allies would have been more effective from the outset. Surprise attacks, however, do not give targets time to prepare in advance. Media coverage of the ICC and the ICJ has proven the urgent need to explain why their actions are illegitimate. The broader imperative is to explain more effectively, and with greater resources, why Israel is exercising its legitimate right of self-defense against Hamas and Iran.

This article was first published in the Washington Examiner on May 29, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Repercussions of Raisi’s death

President Ebrahim Raisi’s May 19 death in a helicopter crash has the potential to shatter Iran’s regime and the 1979 Islamic Revolution itself.  Raisi’s obviously unexpected demise was so unnerving and the stakes so high that we cannot yet fully discern the frantic maneuverings and vicious political infighting underway behind the scenes in Tehran.

The critical next step is the regime’s official, definitive statement on the cause of the helicopter crash.  So far, authorities have said only there was no evidence Raisi’s aircraft was attacked (https://apnews.com/article/iran-statement-helicopter-crash-raisi-a19ed365f5f4813c31b3d696acc0a6cb), and the investigation continues. This obviously incomplete explanation is likely intended to buy time and reduce destabilizing speculation, but it cannot be the final word.

Huge political consequences flow from whatever cause is ultimately chosen.  The reality was probably some combination of bad weather, mountainous terrain, pilot error or mechanical malfunction.  Former Foreign Minister Javaid Zarif quickly blamed US sanctions for the lack of spare parts, which is laughable.  Iran has earned hundreds of billions of dollars in international oil sales since Ronald Reagan imposed America’s first sanctions, enough to finance ballistic-missile and nuclear programs and arm countless terrorist groups.  Iran didn’t have enough money to buy new helicopters from its Russian and Chinese friends?

Beyond the obvious non-political causes, Iran could choose to blame the usual foreign suspects (Mossad, CIA) or domestic political, ethnic, or religious opponents.  Assignment of blame could thereby prefigure the leadership struggles already underway, which could explain the delay in saying anything conclusive.  When truth is manipulated, elaborate preparations are often required to destroy conflicting evidence and counterfeit new “evidence.”  Outsiders can only await the final word to assess its impact, if any, on the succession battle.  Meanwhile, in the hours and days after the first reports of the presidential helicopter’s “hard landing,” military and security forces have shored up their defenses against potential unrest or interference from domestic or foreign source (https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/25/world/middleeast/iran-raisi-helicopter-crash.html).

The critical point is the need to select a new Supreme Leader, or at least devise a concrete process for that decision, sooner than anticipated.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is approximately 85-years-old and in poor health.  With only two Supreme Leaders since the 1979 revolution, Iran has no established procedure regarding succession.  Many believe the rigged electoral process that brought Raisi to the presidency was intended to establish a more-stable line of succession, with Raisi seamlessly replacing Khamenei at the appropriate time.

Not everyone accepted this ploy, least of all Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba, who aspires to fill his father’s shoes.  Ironically, the father’s own concerns about establishing a hereditary line of succession, a criticism forcefully made by Mojtaba’s opponents, likely helped propel the notion that the presidency could serve as a stepping stone.  With new presidential elections now set for June 28, it is questionable whether the victor will automatically have the clout to be a top-tier contender to be Supreme Leader.  That means, inevitably, that there could be a plethora of candidates and intense infighting in government circles well ahead of the Supreme Leader’s death, which is likely the only way he will relinquish his office. 

Avoiding uncertainty over the succession is precisely what the regime’s top religious, civil, and military leadership wanted, but it now seems unavoidable.  Widespread politicking, conniving, and worse will widen already-existing splits within Iran’s top leadership and open new ones.  Competing centers of power among the ayatollahs;  leaders in the government’s legislative and judicial branches;  and Revolutionary Guards and regular military commanders already exist or are developing quickly.  The longer the struggle proceeds, the more bitter, more intense, and more protracted it will become.

In terms of raw power, the Revolutionary Guards already constitute a force that can easily resist the weak structures of civil government and even the regular military.  Many characterized the now-deceased Quds Force leader, Qassem Soleimani, as almost a son to Ayatollah Khamenei, with influence far beyond what his official title conveyed.  Given the regime’s unprecedented unpopularity across Iran, because of economic troubles, the discontent of the young people, the outrage caused by Mahsa Amini’s murder eighteen months ago, and longstanding ethnic and religious tensions, the Revolutionary Guards truly are the only reliably loyal shield for the ayatollahs and other regime leaders.

But what if the IRGC fragments?  If Iran’s opposition can drive wedges between Revolutionary Guard leaders, or even within the conventional military, the regime’s near-monopoly of lethal force could be broken.  Disaffected ethnic groups like Kurds and Baluchis could join in as well, raising the prospect of internal clashes, perhaps rising to levels approximating civil war.

Historically, outwardly imposing authoritarian regimes, such as czarist Russia, have often been hollowed out internally long before they fell.  Confronted with determined opponents, they collapsed swiftly.  It is too soon to tell whether the ayatollahs will meet the same fate, but, without doubt, their revolution is now in grave jeopardy.

This article was first published in Independent Arabia on May 28, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Hamas is just a part of Iran’s multi-front war against Israel and the West

Since Oct. 7, Hamas has been the tip of the spear in Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not yet finished Hamas off militarily, largely because of intense White House pressure, now approaching a crescendo, not to do so.

But Iran has other options it can dial up, most worryingly Hezbollah, its most potent terrorist surrogate. The death of President Ebrahim Raisi, whatever its effects domestically in Iran, which may be significant, will not in the near term change the ayatollah’s regional aspirations or strategies.

Several recent developments have highlighted Tehran’s non-Hezbollah options, which, together or alone, pose significant risks for Israel, the United States and their allies. Whether Washington and Jerusalem are paying adequate attention is unclear. Biden seems intent on begging Tehran to resile from the “ring of fire,” as evidenced yet again last week. Iran has no reason to take these entreaties seriously.

Instead, Iran is actively recruiting local Palestinians in Jordan to aid Hezbollah and Hamas in destabilizing King Abdullah. Jordan was the second Arab country, after Egypt, to make peace with Israel, and its security and stability are vital interests for Jerusalem and Washington. Jordan’s fragile economy and endangered monarchy have over the years survived serious pressures, as during the Gulf Wars against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. has important military facilities in Jordan and the at Tanf garrison in Syria, astride the Iraqi, Syrian and Jordanian borders. Amman was critical in the war against ISIS, and has long defended itself from Iranian threats. King Abdullah first underscored the threat of an Iranian-led “Shia Crescent,” reaching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. In April, Jordan played a critical role against Iran’s missile and drone assault on Israel, downing dozens of drones and allowing Israeli and other friendly air forces to conduct operations in its airspace.

The worst-case scenario would be Jordain’s monarchy falling to Hamas or other pro-Iranian terrorists. A hostile regime in Amman, mobilizing Palestinians on both sides of the Jordan River, would be far more threatening to Israel than the current Gaza strife. Iran and its surrogates fully appreciate this vulnerability, which is why undermining King Abdullah is so attractive. Perhaps Israel, the U.S. and Gulf Arab states have significant measures underway to help steady Jordan’s monarchy and economy — but, if not, they should begin immediately.

Another little-noticed increased threat is the mounting pressure on Israeli targets by Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. Israeli officials decline to comment on these attacks, and so far most of the drones and missiles launched against Israel have apparently been intercepted. The militias have also struck sites in Jordan, most notably the U.S. base near at Tanf known as “Tower 22” in February, where three Americans were killed and dozens wounded. Washington’s retaliation against the militias and their Iranian patrons resulted in attacks on U.S. positions declining, and likely redirected their attention to Israel.

To date, the Shia militias’ direct threat to Israel has not been large, but the prospect exists for more sophisticated and more effective weapons aimed at both Israel and Jordan. At a minimum, these developments enhance Tehran’s tactical flexibility, increasing the overall strain on Israeli air-defense capabilities, and heightening risks to U.S. personnel and facilities. Strategically, utilizing the Shia militias outside their Iraq and Syria base areas increases the overall integration of “ring of fire” proxies to Iran’s advantage. Coordinating with Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Syria’s conventional military strengthens the Shia Crescent threatening both Israel and Jordan.

Also receiving relatively sparse media attention are attacks by Yemen’s Houthis on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, which the State Department warns are “resulting in enormous impacts on international shipping.” The Iran-Houthi strategy to disrupt freedom of the seas is particularly noteworthy for how targeted it is, with attacks largely exempting Chinese and Russian carriers, concentrating instead on barring Israeli, American and European shippers.

Rising transportation costs and higher insurance rates for oil and other cargoes diverted around Africa have significantly increased prices in Europe, and have advantaged Russia and China, notwithstanding sanctions against Russia for its 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The differential targeting of Houthi interdiction efforts not only signals Iranian control over Houthi operations, but the Beijing-Moscow alliance’s increasing importance in Middle Eastern affairs.

Moreover, Houthi attacks on U.S. and U.K. naval vessels and drones pose a direct challenge to Western military efforts to defeat the “ring of fire” strategy. Of course, American-led airstrikes have destroyed Iranian-supplied missile and radar capabilities used by Houthis in the Red Sea campaign, but the Biden administration’s retaliation has been quite limited.

The White House has made no effort to eliminate the Iranian-Houthi disruptive operations, nor has it considered the consequences of their discriminatory maritime targeting, which simply encourages the attacks to continue. Their tactics not only cause real economic damage, but are daily violating fundamental U.S. and Western interests in freedom of the seas. Impunity only encourages other global predators like China to think they too can disrupt freedom of the seas with only a minimal American response.

The Biden administration is seriously mistaken to believe the Middle East’s only real conflict is in Gaza. Hamas is but one part of a larger Iranian-led provocation. Our persistent failure to see the greater picture only invites more trouble.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. He held senior State Department posts in 1981-83, 1989-93 and 2001-2005.

This article was first published in The Hill on May 21, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Ambassador John Bolton Endorses Rep. Anthony D’Esposito for U.S. House of Representatives for New York’s Fourth District

Washington D.C. – Former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Ambassador John R. Bolton, announced the John Bolton PAC’s endorsement of Rep. Anthony D’Esposito for U.S. House of Representatives in New York’s Fourth District. Additionally, the John Bolton PAC will make a contribution of $5,000 to his reelection campaign.

Statement by Ambassador John Bolton:

“As a former detective, Congressman Anthony D’Esposito has seen humanity at its worst, yet he’s never let that stop him from doing what’s right. He’s continuously stood up for our allies and condemned evil whenever it arises. I’m proud to stand alongside Congressman D’Esposito as he fights to maintain America’s strength in the midst of international strain.”

Statement by Anthony D’Esposito:

“Defending our homeland calls for an engaged United States on the world stage, and all Americans were proud of Ambassador John Bolton for his work advancing American principles and priorities during his time in public service. I am honored to receive his endorsement.”

About the John Bolton PAC (www.boltonpac.com): Through his PAC, SuperPAC and Foundation, Ambassador John Bolton defends America by raising the importance of national security in public discourse and supporting candidates who believe in strong national security policies. Ambassador Bolton has worked hard to restore conservative leadership, which must reverse the recent policies of drift, decline, and defeat. America must rise to the occasion and acknowledge the indispensable role we play in the world. Through 2022, Ambassador Bolton has endorsed over 250 candidates and raised nearly $30 million for his organizations.

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The West will soon pay for Biden’s betrayal

Our global adversaries – China, Russia, Iran and its proxies – must be marvelling at their good fortune as President Joe Biden effectively endorses a terrorist veto over Israel’s right to self-defence.
The US President’s unprecedented open threat to withhold arms deliveries to Israel “if they go into Rafah”, and a State Department public report on Israeli conduct of the war, are self-inflicted wounds to a vital alliance. Israel has not yet publicly responded, but it faces critical choices over whether to proceed militarily in Rafah, or back down. Neither option is attractive given the potential consequences.
Biden’s stubbornness is wrong on many levels. First, close allies should always engage privately during wartime. Leaks undoubtedly occur, often intentionally, but preserving even minimal confidentiality is essential to later repairing damage done both at governmental and personal levels.
Piling on publicly in the middle of a war is imprudent, even juvenile, damaging the respect and trust allies must sustain during times of crisis and tension. The propaganda opportunities handed to hostile powers are immeasurable. And if Biden is prepared to cut loose one of America’s most valued partners, what does that foretell for those more-distant, less-favoured than Israel? How does Ukraine feel? Or Taiwan?  
Second, Biden’s motives are not so high-minded as he may have us believe. This is no profile in courage. Domestically, the US President is faring poorly in polls against Donald Trump, and defections to minor-party candidates could sink his re-election chances. In swing-state primaries like Michigan, large numbers of Democrats voted “uncommitted”, posing significant risks if they stay home in November. White House staffers have flagellated themselves to regain key Democratic blocks but they have so far failed. Elizabeth Warren, asserting Israel may be liable for “genocide” in Gaza, exemplifies the problem.
Ironically, while politics dominates Biden’s calculations, his gambit may backfire. Republicans uniformly rejected his approach, as did significant numbers of Democrats. Biden’s threat reflects weakness, coming just weeks after his frantic efforts to pressure Israel not to retaliate strongly after Iran’s missile-and-drone attack.  
The President’s supporters invoke Ronald Reagan’s withholding weapons when Israel struck Palestinians in Lebanon, but the two scenarios are entirely distinct. The US-Israel relation at that time was moral and historical, not strategic, as it is today. Indeed, Reagan later forged the Washington-Jerusalem strategic ties. Biden repeatedly pledged “ironclad support” for Israel after October 7, but subsequently swerved dramatically from that position.
Finally, and most importantly, the substance of Biden’s threat and the thoroughly unsatisfactory State Department report expose the administration as misguided and confused in ways that could haunt future US Presidents.
Close-quarters combat in complex urban environments, let alone in Hamas’s extraordinary network of underground tunnels, is something Western militaries prefer to avoid. Not surprisingly, the State’s report is incoherent and contradictory, doubtless reflecting anti-Israel sentiment in many Department bureaus, and schizophrenia within Biden Administration political ranks. The report lacks specificity, yet incomplete information is hard to assess without adequate context – which is why a fair and accurate reckoning would be most fruitful after the war, not while combat still rages.
The fact that civilians are present in combat areas requires that Israel, or any combatant, determine they are striking only military targets and that civilian casualties are no more than proportional to the importance of such targets. In Rafah, the IDF is seeking to eliminate Hamas’s highest command-and-control hierarchies and its remaining organised military units, all clearly legitimate objectives.
It is unacceptable that Israel may be prevented from achieving its legitimate self-defence goals because the terrorists are so barbaric as to sacrifice their own civilian population to save themselves. If that is what Biden means by saying he objects to Israel entering Rafah, then he is simply endorsing the terrorist veto. Yet it is Hamas that is morally culpable for Gazan civilian deaths, not Israel.  
We do not know what will unfold next, but the decisive choice now lies with Israel’s war cabinet. Biden’s ill-considered threat to cut the Jewish state loose will be at the centre of considerable debate. There is no debate, however, that Biden’s ploy will come back to haunt him, America, and all the West.
John Bolton is a former US National Security Advisor

This article was first published in the Daily Telegraph on May 12, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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What’s next between Iran and Israel?

John Bolton writes for “Independent Arabia” about the outcome of the confrontation between Tehran and Tel Aviv and issues a very important warning of the next six months

The first batch of overt Iranian attacks on Israeli territory has now concluded, along with the Israeli response, which constituted the first public attack inside Iran. Yet no one should imagine that Tehran’s mullahs have abandoned their grand strategy of hegemony throughout the Middle East and among Muslims, nor that their long-term covert war against Israel will subside and recede. For now, however, the focus should be on Israel’s imminent efforts to eliminate Hamas militarily and politically, and counter the future of Iran’s “Ring of Fire” battle plan.

It remains unclear whether Iran intends Hamas to launch a full “ring of fire” strategy during its barbaric attack on October 7, 2023, and this may remain unknown for some time as well. Whatever Iran’s aims, Israel’s harsh response has crippled Hamas’s conventional combat capabilities. Moreover, Gazans have begun to turn against Hamas, which is crucial for Israel and the Arab world alike. Tehran undoubtedly misjudged Israel’s internal political stability and global aversion to the events of October 7, 2023, but it is likely that Supreme Leader Khamenei believed that Hamas could be left to its fate in any case. Still, he should be concerned about the devastation inflicted on Hamas, even though Iran itself and its other terrorist proxies (the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Iraqi and Syrian Shiitemilitias) have suffered little.

For now, Iran seems unwilling to risk losing more of these investments. The mullahs are likely to already recognize the Biden administration’s internal political weakness, as most Americans inevitably do. With the uncertainty that dominates Biden’s re-election, it may be justified and logical for Iranian ayatollahs to worry that any further attacks against Israel, directly or through allied terrorist groups, could trigger a strong U.S. response, at a time when Biden is trying to show support for Israel. The unexpected outcome of the U.S. election campaign, and what a second term for Trump might bring, may indicate a short-term pause on the Iranian side. Waiting for the fall of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government could also be a gift to Iran. No other Israeli leader understands the Iranian threat so clearly, or has Netanyahu’s determination that Israel does not fall prey to what his predecessor Ariel Sharon called a “nuclear holocaust.”

But whatever Iran prefers, it cannot ignore that a decisive Israeli victory against Hamas would irreparably weaken Tehran’s regional position. Israel is certainly not a receiver or merely responding, even if the Biden White House follows this approach. Indeed, Israel may then target Hezbollah’s vast missile stockpile and the quasi-existential threat it poses. If Israel believes that Iran fears enough of direct U.S. intervention, Jerusalem can take decisive action against Hezbollah’s arsenal without fear of major Iranian counterstrikes.

More importantly, the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. elections scheduled for Nov. 5 does not suggest a clear direction for Tehran. Despite Trump’s orders to assassinate Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, Emmanuel Macron almost convinced Trump at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz to meet with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Thus, even with the Biden administration’s apparent weakness and indecision, Iran’s mullahs can decide to wait for Trump to come again and his limited understanding of America’s core national security interests. Refusing to undertake major new military initiatives before Nov. 5 would avoid exposing the Houthis, Hezbollah, Shiite militias, and even Iran itself to punitive attacks by Jerusalem or Washington.

In this context, too, Iran is taking into account its growing alignment and rapprochement with the fast-growing Sino-Russian axis, a contemporary version of the Sino-Soviet alliance during the Cold War, with Beijing as its largest partner and Moscow as its vassal. Iran sells Russia drones to use against Ukraine. China has increased its oil and gas purchases from Russia. Iran is facilitating Russia’s evasion of international financial sanctions and is considering whether to take a decisive step against Taiwan, possibly before the U.S. election, at a time when Beijing (and Moscow) are still unclear whether to wait until the U.S. election is decided, or to take major steps before that time, with both positive and negative points. The mere fact that this is the subject of heated debate during a fierce US presidential campaign at the partisan level is extremely dangerous and uncertain, a major complicating factor for Russia, China, and Iran.

Meanwhile, public coordination between Iran and other partners in the Beijing-Moscow axis, such as North Korea, has become more apparent. Iran and North Korea have long cooperated closely on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, but in secret, for reasons that are not hidden. Abandoning any claims about their relations is a sign of increased confidence in these two proliferator rogue states. Unfortunately, America’s adversaries all know that Trump’s desire to make “big deals” with his country’s enemies can easily override any rational calculation of America’s national interests.

The most likely scenario for the next six months would be this: Israeli attacks would leave Hamas a crumbling terrorist network, Jerusalem would increase its campaign against suspected terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza, and tensions along the Lebanese border between Israel and Hezbollah would increase. As the Nov. 5 deadline approaches, and the outcome and the overall picture may become clear, Iran and its proxies will have to make their own decision on whether to take major military action, or wait until a new president is installed. No one thinks the next six months will be quiet.

This article was first published in the Independent Arabia on April 30, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Biden gave Iran yet another win by pressing Israel to go easy on the terrorist state

With Israel facing overwhelming pressure from President Biden, its Friday retaliation against Iran was an exercise in minimalism. Jerusalem did cross one important Iranian red line, at whose mere mention the Biden administration has quailed. Bibi Netanyahu’s war cabinet authorized an overt attack against a target on the soil of Iran, which Israel had previously attacked only covertly. Point therefore made, albeit one that should have made many years ago.

Beyond that, there is little to celebrate. Jerusalem’s riposte to Tehran’s massive April 13-14 missile-and-drone attack on Israel has solved nothing else substantive. Iran continues closing its “ring of fire” around Israel, which will likely now refocus on finishing Hamas. It is frivolous to say, as some do, that Israel has established “escalation dominance” over Iran, having struck the first and last blows.

In fact, the parties exchanged a few glancing blows, with no material change in their capabilities. Nonetheless, there were winners and losers from the exchange. Consider these:

Biggest winner. Beyond dispute, Biden wears the largest smile, his administration having all but broken Netanyahu’s arm to force Israel’s limp reaction. The White House did not operate on a strategic plane here, except for demonstrating yet again its limitless deference to Iran. Instead, the administration was playing domestic American politics and achieved two potentially critical objectives. By saving Iran from a meaningful Israeli response, Biden has at least postponed the prospect of further increases in international oil prices and their inevitable consequence of increasing gasoline’s price at the pump in the United States. And Biden forestalled intensified criticism from progressive Democrats who oppose his Middle East policies (such as they are) and could sink his prospects in November merely by staying home in key states like Michigan and Nevada.

Second biggest winner. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his regime literally dodged the bullets that Israel never fired. The mullahs carefully watched Biden make Israel knuckle under, and they will not hesitate to exploit that lesson militarily and diplomatically as their ring-of-fire strategy continues unfolding. Their near-theological hold on Biden’s administration, as on Obama’s, continues to thrive, and Khamenei and his advisers sense the palpable political fear emanating from the White House. More than six months into the current war against “the little Satan,” Iran has still suffered no measurable damage on its home turf. In the psychological warfare contest with America, it is unfortunately Iran that has “escalation dominance.”

Biggest losers. The security of the American and Israeli peoples suffered the most. Biden muscled Israel’s war cabinet but bent his knee to our mutual adversaries in Iran, revealing by this unforced error crippling weakness in the White House. On one hand, he was dismayed by Israel’s successful April 1 attack in Damascus against leaders of Iran’s Quds Force. On the other, he asserted embarrassingly that just staying alive after Iran’s missile-and-drone barrage was an Israeli “win” requiring Jerusalem to rest on its laurels and not retaliate. Israel, however, is struggling to escape living under the gun of Iran and its terrorist proxies, not celebrate it. Our global adversaries, especially Moscow and Beijing, must have marveled at Biden’s sophistry, which sadly rises to the level of Lenin’s scorn for “useful idiots.”

And the basis of Biden’s overconfidence may well be wrong. Israeli and US missile defenses were not as fully tested as first thought. Largely unnoticed, The Wall Street Journal and CBS reported that half of Iran’s 120 ballistic missiles failed, either at liftoff or before being shot down. If true, out of 320 Iranian projectiles, Israel’s missile defenses faced only around 60 ballistic missiles, plus 30 cruise missiles and 170 much-slower drones.

Iran’s failures do not detract from Israel’s missile-defense successes, including Jordanian and Saudi participation. They do, however, underscore that if Iran launches more properly functioning missiles next time, we may not be so successful. And the irony is heavy. Biden strongly opposed George W. Bush’s 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which opened the floodgates of knowledge on all types of missile defenses, bearing fruit today.

Washington is reportedly readying sanctions against an Israeli army battalion for alleged human-rights violations. If true, this news reveals Joe Biden’s real direction. So much for restraint.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Donald Trump, 2018-19, and US ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-06.

This article was first published in the New York Post on April 21, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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How Israel, with US backing, should respond to Iran’s attack

President Joe Biden and his advisers bear significant responsibility for Iran’s massive Saturday attack on Israel, consisting of more than 300 drones and ballistic or cruise missiles. Before, during, and after Hamas’s barbaric Oct. 7 assault on the Jewish state, his administration refused to acknowledge Tehran’s “ring of fire” strategy, conducted through terrorists such as Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. The White House signaled both obliviousness and weakness by not recognizing that today’s Middle East conflict is not Palestinians or Arabs against Israel, but an Iranian war against “the little Satan.”

Instead, Biden saw only separate threats, constantly whining about risking a “wider war,” and blind to the reality that the wider war started on Oct. 7. Prior to Saturday’s attack, he remained blind, pursuing a Gaza ceasefire that had become unreachable, and that would have achieved nothing strategically significant.

Biden, administration officials, and key congressional Democrats also unleashed a flood of abuse against Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, in an unprecedented public lecture to a U.S. ally, called for new Israeli elections, hoping to oust Netanyahu’s government. Having earlier called Israel’s bombing in Gaza “indiscriminate,” which would make Israel’s offensive a war crime if true, Biden quickly seconded Schumer’s hostility, describing Netanyahu’s approach to the Gaza battle as a “mistake.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) rightly pegged the real motivations for Biden’s and Schumer’s whining about Netanyahu: fear of the Democratic Party’s anti-Israel left wing.

By contrast, Israel immediately understood that Iran was the hidden hand behind Oct. 7. Jerusalem’s April 1 strike against top Quds Force officers in Damascus was important in its continuing defensive military response.

And, ironically, Iran was also clear-eyed about the stakes between itself and Israel, a rare point of agreement. Having now launched drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles against Israel from Iranian territory, the ayatollahs surely expect Jerusalem to respond.

What is difficult to explain, however, is Iran’s delay in retaliating for Israel’s Damascus strike. If the ayatollahs considered doing very little, hoping to avoid potentially devasting retaliation on Iranian targets, that option was obviously rejected. Was there divisive internal debate about Iran’s response? Or was the delay merely because of preparations and other operational factors? Answers to many of these questions remain unknowable, but could have strategic significance in coming days.

The sad truth is that Israeli and U.S. deterrence against Iran failed. Proportionality, diplomacy, “messaging,” and academic game theory all came to naught. Israel must now respond, hopefully with complete American backing, and that response must not be “proportionate.” It should be decidedly disproportionate, thereby being unmistakably clear to Tehran that, if it ever attacks again, it will face far higher costs than any imaginable pain it might impose on Israel.

Jerusalem’s response could begin immediately, even while the defense of Israel and relief and rescue operations remain underway.

To start, Israel should destroy Iran’s air defenses, to facilitate its retaliation now and well into the future, with targets including anti-aircraft artillery and missiles, radars, and their associated command-and-control facilities. A broader target set could include the central and regional headquarters for Iran’s conventional military forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, particularly the Quds Force, which controls relations with Iran’s terrorist proxies. Degrading Iran’s conventional military capabilities, especially the launch sites for Saturday’s attack, would substantially reduce its ability to intimidate its neighbors, especially the oil-producing Gulf Arab states, and its capacity to arm and supply its regional terrorist proxies.

Further up the prospective target list is Iran’s oil-and-gas-producing infrastructure: the oil-and-gas fields, refining and processing facilities, domestic distribution pipelines and terminals, and the hydrocarbon export ports and related facilities. Obviously, paralyzing Iran’s principal source of wealth, both in terms of foreign income and domestic industry and daily life, would severely impede Iran’s belligerence.

At the highest end of potential targets are Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. The uranium-conversion and uranium-enrichment programs and the weaponization work at Iranian military bases pose varying degrees of difficulty to destroy, particularly for Israel, but Netanyahu has long focused on the dangers to Israel from Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Netanyahu knows better than anyone that, while none of the missiles launched so far have been nuclear-armed, the real risk is what happens next time. Having now attacked Israeli territory from Iran once, not relying on its terrorist surrogates, Iran has shown itself fully capable of doing so again whenever it chooses.

Israel is at risk that the next salvo of ballistic missiles will carry nuclear warheads. Netanyahu could roll the dice and hope they don’t, but he knows that the threat of what his predecessor Ariel Sharon once called a “nuclear holocaust” is closer to reality than ever before. Israel would be entirely justified in removing that threat, and the United States should fully support such a decision.

John Bolton served as national security adviser to then-President Donald Trump between 2018 and 2019. Between 2005 and 2006, he served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

This article was first published in The Washington Examiner on April 14, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

ABOUT JOHN BOLTON

Ambassador John Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. He served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2005-2006. He was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from 2001 to 2005. In the Reagan Administration, he was an Assistant Attorney General.