JERUSALEM, June 23 (AP/WNP): US National Security Adviser John Bolton warned on Sunday that Iran should not “mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness”, after the US abruptly called off military strikes against Iran in response to the shooting down of an unmanned American surveillance drone.
“No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President Trump said on Friday, our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go,” Bolton said in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a vocal critic of Iran over the years.
“And as he made clear yesterday, referring to his earlier remarks, the president said, ‘I just stopped the strike from going forward at this time’,” Bolton added.
Bolton’s tough message seemed to be aimed not only at Tehran, but also at reassuring key US allies that the White House remains committed to maintaining pressure on Iran. Israel, along with Arab countries in the Gulf, considers Iran to be their greatest threat, and Trump’s last-minute about face appears to have raised questions about US willingness to use force against the Islamic Republic.
The downing of the aircraft on Thursday marked a new high in the rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration has vowed to combine a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
President Donald Trump says he backed away from the planned strikes after learning 150 people would be killed. But Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk, emphasised that the US reserved the right to attack at a later point. He also said a new set of sanctions on Iran are expected to be announced Monday.
Bolton in Israel
Bolton is visiting Israel for three-way talks with his Israeli and Russian counterparts that are expected to focus on Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region, including in neighboring Syria.
Israel’s prime minister has been a vocal critic of Iran over the years, accusing the Islamic Republic of sinister intentions at every opportunity.
But Netanyahu, a longtime critic of the nuclear deal, has remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the current crisis between the US and Iran. The Israeli leader appears to be wary of being seen as pushing the US into a new Middle Eastern military conflict.
Standing alongside Bolton, Netanyahu sided with the Americans. He said Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region had increased as a result of the nuclear deal, which gave the country a new cash infusion, and had nothing to do with the US exit from the agreement.
“After the deal, but before recent events, Iran has been on a campaign of aggression,” he said. “Those who describe the recent actions as somehow opening a hornet’s nest are living on another planet.”
Netanyahu made no mention of the called-off airstrike and said he was “pleased” by US plans for increased economic pressure. But Israeli commentators said that Trump’s about-face was a cause for concern.
“It further undermined the already limited confidence of other Western leaders in Trump’s judgment, it cast the U.S. president as a paper tiger and provided a moment of triumph for the ayatollahs in Tehran and it raised new doubts about the rationale behind Netanyahu’s drive to persuade Trump to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal,” wrote Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev.
Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons — a charge Tehran denies.
Earlier in his decade-long tenure, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials had strongly considered attacking Iranian nuclear installations. Under heavy pressure from the Obama administration and his own security chiefs, Netanyahu ultimately decided against military action.
A top Iranian military commander warned on Sunday that any conflict with Iran would have uncontrollable consequences across the region and endanger the lives of US forces.
Maj Gen Gholamali Rashid’s remarks, published by the semi-official Fars news agency, were made while addressing Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps during a field visit to a command center for Iranian radars and missile systems. The general oversees and coordinates joint military operations in the Iranian Armed Forces.
Meanwhile, Iranian lawmakers on Sunday chanted “death to America” during an open session when acting parliament speaker Masoud Pezeshkian condemned what he said was the violation of Iranian airspace by the US drone.
Unlikely ‘best friend’
US military cyber forces on Thursday launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems, according to officials. The cyberattacks disabled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said.
Throughout the recent crisis, Trump has wavered between bellicose language and actions toward Iran and a more accommodating tone. His administration is aiming to cripple Iran’s economy and force policy changes by re-imposing sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports.
However, Trump said on Saturday he appreciated that Iran did not fire on a US spy plane with a crew of over 30 people that was flying Thursday over the same area as the drone that was shot down.
He also dangled the prospect of eventually becoming an unlikely “best friend” of America’s longtime Middle Eastern adversary.
The regional tensions have prompted major international carriers, including Saudi Arabia’s state airline Saudia, to divert flight routes away from the Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz.
The US Federal Aviation Administration’s on Friday barred US-registered aircraft from operating over parts of the Persian Gulf.
The US blames Iran for apparent attacks on six oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in recent weeks, which Iran denies.