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John Bolton: Israel Under Greatest Threat Since 1948

Former US Ambassador to UN John Bolton's spoke at the Hovevei Zion conference hosted by Dr. Joe Frager in New York. The following is a partial transcript of his speech:

We are in 1000th anniversary of WWI and so much of the century that we saw in the past, and what I worry that we’ll see ahead, began in those days: the Balfour Declaration, collapse of the Ottoman empire and the creation of Middle East as we saw it over the past decades. The League of Nations, President Wilson’s idea that it would bring peace to the world and make it safe for democracy, the British mandate over Palestine.

The Balfour declaration was one of the most important documents that helped the American political system outside of the Jewish community to understand the nature of what the Zionists foresaw. It’s not an accident that the first nation to recognize Israel was the US. After so many years of Israel being a special concern of the Jewish community in the US, support of Israel is broad and deep in this country. That is the reality that no one should forget.

When the Six Day War was over, and Jerusalem was once again the united capital of united Israel, many people thought it would be a temporary phenomenon, and after the 73 War, people thought it would be a temporary phenomena, and we’ve been arguing for some 40 years about how to return everything that Israel won in 2 successive wars. Israel has been put on the defensive in the political arena in ways that it never really was on the defensive very long in the military arena. And that’s why the broader circumstances that Israel faces are so important for the US. 

Because once again Israel is under attack, in some respects an attack more important than the military attacks that Israel has successfully overcome in the past. You can see this on two fronts, not just an effort to redivide Jerusalem, but what we see around the world and particularly sad to say, in Europe and the US, an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel itself. Not simply a question of this Israeli policy or that Israeli policy, but to delegitimize Israel. 

This is nothing new, obviously the Zionism is Racism resolution itself was an effort to delegitimize Israel and to equate Zionism with the Apartheid system of South Africa. This was the beginning of saying that the government was illegitimate. 

When in 1991 we were able to get the UN General Assembly to repeal this Zionism is Racism resolution, I thought we had made a significant step in ending this effort to question the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. It became very clear and very soon that repealing didn’t change anything fundamentally in the attitude of Israel’s opponents. We see the effort reccuring in the Durban conference going back 15 years now. 

Fundamentally, the BDS movement doesn’t have anything to do with the “occupied territories”, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Turkish flotilla, it doesn’t have anything to do with a two state solution which is a solution due to fail if it were ever implemented. BDS is part of the argument against Israel itself, and unless we understand that, we’ll be fighting an argument with our hands tied behind our back.

So much of the criticism that Israel faces is a failed criticism of the US. There’s a lot to that metaphor about Israel being the canary in the mine shaft. The disproportionate force argument — I used to hear that in the UN all the time. Israel would be shelled from Lebanon by Hezbollah, however Israel responded was “disproportionate force”. I finally said that when you’re confronted with adversaries whether they are are nation-states or terrorists that are determined to destroy you, it is not proportionate force to defend yourself up to defeating your enemy conclusively. 

When the US was attacked at Pearl Harbor in December  7, 1941, what would a proportional force have been? Sinking an equivalent number of Japanese ships? Should we stop after that? Of course not. When you’re faced with an existential threat, you’re entitled to defeat that existential threat so your civilians are safe.

This non-proportional force has been central to American military thinking for decades to bring to bear overwhelming power to defeat the enemy in the most rapid fashion to save American lives. The sooner you finish a war, the more of your people you don’t have to sacrifice and its true for the enemy as well. So when Israel responds, it’s not doing anything that the US wouldn’t or shouldn’t do in its place. 

There is an aspect of the concept of “lawfare”, of using doctrines in international law against the west as a whole, not just the US and Israel, but against the west more broadly. All these efforts to delegitimize Israel, which is a part of the west, have to be resisted. Just to take one, the International Criminal Court which the enemies of Israel have their sights on, use the ICC to accuse the ministers and officials of the government of Israel for alleged crimes against humanity. 

I wrote in my memoirs that my happiest day in all my public service was the day I unsigned Pres. Clinton’s signature on the Statute of Rome that created the ICC. This isn’t a court, this a device that’s intended to intimidate the US and Israel and its allies, and the next front on the battle that Israel will have face almost certainly will be before the ICC. This struggle for Israel’s legitimacy and existence, sad to say 100 years after the Balfour Declaration, and 3000 years after Israel came into existence, is still on the balance. It’s not going to be an easy victory here, certainly no room for complacency.

Beyond that, the entire middle east is descending into chaos, Israel’s stability in the region is more threatened that any time since 1948, not from the specific armies that are on its borders but from the fact that terrorism is spreading all all across North Africa from the Atlantic ocean through the Middle East to Pakistan. You see the states that were created at the end of WWI, at the break up of the Ottoman Empire, are collapsing. 

Hopefully ISIS will be defeated particularly if we can get a new president. Iraq and Syria have ceased to function as functioning states, they’re not going to come back together. Yemen has collapsed, Libya is in a state of chaos, Egypt no longer controls the Sinai peninsula, you can see the state structure disappearing and the havens created for terrorists throughout the region are simply going to threaten Israel and the US and the west as a whole more gravely. 

Turkey under President Erdogan is prepared to create a caliphate reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire. He is in the process of eliminating the secular foundations of the Turkish constitution to create an islamist society. He is moving Turkey away from the west, undermining a key pillar of the Nato Alliance and is beginning to undermine the rule of law itself. 

As if all of this was not a sufficient problem, you have Iran making steady progress towards its 35-year-long objective of nuclear weapons. Every since the Iranian revolution of 1979, it’s been clear that that’s what they sought and the nuclear deal that was agreed in the summer of 2015, simply legitimizes this state sponsor of terrorism, and its central bank of international terrorism well before we unfroze 150 billion of assets or traded cash for hostages. Every week that goes by, more concessions that the UN made to get this deal become clearer and clearer. 

The world in many aspects in well beyond the Middle East. Look at Russian pressure in Central Europe, its new advances into the new Middle East, China’s development of an aggressive, belligerent policy in the East and South China seas and its increase in military capabilities while the American military ability has shrunk over the past 8 years in a threatening way. 

That’s why this election is so important. Every American citizen has to think about the security of the country. We obviously have enormous economic issues at stake, but when the country itself is not safe, everything else is secondary. It’s always on the mind of the people of Israel, because of the circumstances that Israel faces, but it should be on the mind of everybody in the United States too because that’s what is at stake. 

We’re not looking for military conflict. We’ve had enough military conflict. But it’s a strong military that dissuades our adversaries from even thinking of it. It’s not American or Israeli strength that’s provocative, it’s weakness that’s provocative. The strength that we demonstrate make our circumstances more peaceful and secure and makes the world more peaceful and secure. Thank you very much.


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