Ambassador John Bolton is the rare diplomat who champions honesty in diplomacy. A lawyer known for his blunt views during his years in public service, Bolton served in several Republican administrations, including as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2001-2005 and as assistant secretary for international organization affairs from 1989-93. He is probably best remembered for his role as U.S. ambassador to the UN under President George W. Bush from 2005-06.
After contemplating his own run for presidency in 2012, Bolton served as foreign policy adviser to Republican nominee Mitt Romney. He is now chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel commentator, and a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Weekly Standard, and other media outlets.
The Jewish Press spoke with him last week.
The Jewish Press: How would you advise Israel to proceed in the current conflict in Gaza?
Bolton:I think Israel is fully justified in doing what is necessary to eliminate the Hamas threat. Over a sustained period of time Hamas has committed uncounted numbers of aggression against Israel – terrorism, kidnappings, murders. At a certain point, and we’ve long passed it, Israel is entitled to defend itself against the threat itself.
I think Israel has to make a decision based on what it thinks the military necessities are in Gaza. And I think the military necessities go well beyond stopping the constant Hamas rocket attacks and the use of the terror tunnels. There’s a strategic issue here. The real threat from Hamas is not the small rockets on a daily basis or the acts of murder and kidnapping. It’s the longer range, more accurate and powerful missiles that come from Iran and that are intended to preclude Israel from protecting itself against Iranian nuclear weapons.
Obviously the daily acts of terror are barbaric and unacceptable but we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger threat, which is combining Hamas and Hizbullah’s rocket capabilities. This is Iran’s effort to deter Israel from taking action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program by unambiguously threatening Israel’s civilian population.
With Hamas seemingly winning the PR war, do you think Israel will be able to forge ahead despite world criticism?
When United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor nobody said you can only destroy a number of Japanese planes and ships. That’s ridiculous. It was a direct attack on the country. Hamas has made it clear, as everybody knows, that it wants the elimination of the state of Israel itself.
Whatever the level of pressure is from public opinion around the world, Israel just has to try to resist this. What Israel is doing is fighting a surrogate struggle against Iran that’s very much in America’s interest, not just in Israel’s.
Netanyahu said he was determined to destroy the tunnels. Even if Israel succeeds, do you think it’s possible to ensure the tunnels won’t be rebuilt without keeping an Israeli presence in Gaza?
I think it’s an insoluble problem at this point. As long as Hamas continues to exist as a functioning terror organization it will find ways to go after Israel, whether it’s rebuilding the tunnels or getting new missiles from Iran. The real issue is not the physical infrastructure. It’s Hamas the organization and the support it has from people in the Gaza strip.
As long as Hamas lives as an organization with any kind of effective leadership structure it’s going to continue to be a threat. I think that needs to be Israel’s real objective, which is harder than physically destroying the tunnels. We saw this with the war with Hizbullah in 2006. Despite Israel’s inflicting very severe damage on Hizbullah they’re back and better armed than they were in 2006.