America has “misread” Iran’s involvement in the Israel-Gaza war and does not understand the danger the regime poses to the Middle East, a former US national security adviser has said.
John Bolton, who served in the Donald Trump administration, told British MPs the attacks on shipping in the Red Sea on Sunday proved Iran was escalating its proxy wars.
He said Tehran had a “ring-of-fire strategy” in which it intended to “cripple Israel” by surrounding it with hostile states and groups including Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
“From the US perspective here, I think the [Joe Biden] administration has misread Iran,” he told the UK Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
“We in the West in general do not understand the severity of the threat that Iran poses to the region,” he said. “Iran is calling shots and the West is responding.”
This inhibited western powers' ability to “respond in a strategic fashion” to what was “ultimately the revolutionary fervour” in Iran.
Mr Bolton suggested Washington playing down Iran's role in the Hamas attacks on October 7 was in part because its plans to resurrect a nuclear agreement with Tehran had failed and would force policymakers to concede they had erred.
“I think there's confusion in the administration's policy because of the unwillingness to acknowledge the centrality of Iran in Israel,” he said.
The former US ambassador to the UN added this was why the administration wanted to suggest “the threat of terrorism internationally is down, which it is manifestly not these days”.
It was vital the West got “better intelligence on Iran, as this is really important”, he urged.
On the Red Sea missile strikes, Mr Bolton said the Houthis in Yemen would not have the ability to attack shipping as “they wouldn't have two rocks to rub together to get that capability if they didn't come from Iran”.
Meanwhile, as an interim arrangement on the two-state solution, he suggested Gaza was divided in two, with Israel controlling the northern part and Egypt the south until an enduring settlement was found. “Gaza is a refugee camp with no viable economy,” Mr Bolton said.
This would also allow Israel and Jordan to come to a final agreement on resolving the problems of the occupied West Bank.
“This is looking at the welfare of the Palestinian people – how do they get out of the interminable refugee camp that Gaza has become?” he said, speaking from Washington via a video link.
The US also had to make it clear to Gulf states whether it was going to “stand up to Iran” because if it was “moving out of the neighbourhood”, this would influence the region’s policy towards Tehran.
The former adviser to Mr Trump was asked about the potential impact of another White House term for his ex-boss.
Mr Bolton, who no longer supports the former president, said: “Trump has a very idiosyncratic way of looking at foreign policy”, which was “transactional and very much depends on the benefits to Donald Trump”.