Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party scored a surprisingly comfortable win in Tuesday’s parliamentary elections, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says the vote was a “stinging defeat” for President Obama that will make Iran far more nervous and probably lead to more appeasement from the U.S. in nuclear negotiations.
Most polls prior to Tuesday’s elections suggested momentum was moving away from Netanyahu and Likud. When early reports suggested high turnout among Arab voters, the outlook seemed even more bleak for the prime minister. However, it became clear fairly early in the vote counting that Likud would win. The party scored 30 seats and is poised not only to form a coalition government without much trouble, but it will likely be even more conservative than the current government.
The results also follow Obama political operative Jeremy Bird and his team working to defeat Netanyahu. Members of Congress are investigating whether taxpayer funds were used in the efforts. Either way, Bolton said there is no way to spin the elections as anything other than a crushing defeat for the Obama administration.
“It’s a stinging political defeat for the president and those who wanted to get rid of Netanyahu,” he said. “They were making the mistake of counting their chickens before they hatched in the run-up to the election, and now all of that’s changed.”
Obama also stands out Wednesday as one of few Western leaders to not congratulate Netanyahu on Likud’s victory. Secretary of State John Kerry conveyed his congratulations instead. Is Obama’s personal silence significant?
“Yes, I think the president can’t stand Bibi Netanyahu,” Bolton said. “I personally don’t think he can stand Israel, while we’re on the subject. Not congratulating a democratically elected leader in a close ally of the United States, I just think is amateurish. It’s not professional. It’s not presidential. It’s just petty.”
He added, “I think the president ought to get over it and at least send out a tweet.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with John Bolton:
Obama routinely congratulates winners in less friendly nations, including current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after his victory in 2013.
How did Netanyahu and Likud win when all polls at the end predicted the party would come up short? Bolton said one issue dwarfs all others in Israel.
“The Israeli people still fundamentally see security issues as the most important that they face as a country and a people,” Bolton said.
Netanyahu’s problem for much of the campaign was that the narrative constantly drifted back to domestic issues, in which his record is far more controversial.
“The campaign has been dominated by domestic economic issues, and there was a lot of criticism of Netanyahu that he had not carried through on market-oriented reforms that he said in his last campaign would be a priority,” said Bolton, who argued that, in the end, Israeli voters cared more about the survival of the nation than Netanyahu’s broken domestic promises.
“When people really thought of the consequences of replacing him, they realized that there just isn’t anybody in the Israeli political scene who can do the job that Netanyahu can on these vital security issues,” he said.
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Bolton admits all political parties are adamantly opposed to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, but he said the difference between how Netanyahu and Labor candidate Isaac Herzog would approach the issue is immense.
“There’d be a much greater willingness (by Labor) to follow Barack Obama’s lead, much closer views on creating a Palestinian State,” he said. ‘Therefore, the ability of Barack Obama to pressure a Herzog or (Tzipi) Livni government not to act militarily against Iran would have been overwhelming. Whereas now, I think he has essentially zero influence on Bibi Netanyahu.”
The threat of military action is the major chip Israel has while Iran and the U.S. negotiate a possible deal over the Iranian nuclear program. Bolton said that fact alone makes the mullahs in Iran very uneasy.
“Iran has to worry that a newly re-elected Netanyahu, with a solid win in this election, is on a much firmer base if he decides to use force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Israel has twice before done in its history against nuclear weapons programs in the hands of hostile states,” Bolton said.
“The most significant outcome is that we’re closer to a decision one way or the other, whether Israel’s going to use force,” he said.
Bolton and others warned that a Netanyahu defeat and an emboldened Iran could trigger a nuclear arms race among Arab states terrified of a nuclear Iran. He said that threat is still possible because of the weakness of the Obama administration in confronting Iran.
“The weakness Obama has shown over these past several years in his desperate efforts to get a deal with Iran, finally convinced the likes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey that the United States was simply not going to do anything effective to stop Iran,” Bolton said.
“The act of negotiation itself helped convince the Saudis and others that they had to look out for their own interests,” he said. “I think the negotiations and the possible deal have actually accelerated the nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
March features three critical moments in the debate over Iranian nukes. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and his successful elections are now in the past. Still to come is the negotiating deadline between the U.S. and Iran over a nuclear deal.
Bolton said he has a pretty good idea how that will play out in the next couple of weeks.
“This will just be an agreement in principle according to the schedule that was laid out last year. I think it’s also possible the administration is so desperate for a deal, that if we get to the end of March and they’re not in sight of it, they will nonetheless say we’re going to keep negotiating because we’re getting close,” said Bolton, who warned that would a terrible sign.
“That’s the sign of somebody who’s just willing to make more concessions,” he said. “I think that’s exactly how Iran will read it.”