John Bolton warns Iran to not mistake US 'prudence' for weakness

US national security adviser is in Israel for to meet Israeli and Russian officials

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and visiting US National Security Advisor John Bolton give a press conference in Jerusalem on June 23, 2019. AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and visiting US National Security Advisor John Bolton give a press conference in Jerusalem on June 23, 2019. AFP

Iran should be clear on why US President Donald Trump cancelled strikes against Iranian military targets at the last minute, National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday.

"Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness," said Mr Bolton, speaking next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in West Jerusalem before their meeting.

"No one has granted them a hunting licence in the Middle East. Our military is rebuilt new and ready to go."

Mr Bolton, who is in Israel for a scheduled meeting with Israeli and Russian security advisers Meir Ben-Shabbat and Nikolai Patrushev, said the "current circumstances in the region make our conversations even more timely".

Mr Trump is due to impose a new round of sanctions on Tehran on Monday, he announced on Twitter, without giving any detail.

"I look forward to the day that sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again," he said.

At the meeting in Israel, the US is hoping to start talks with Russia on differences across the Middle East, specifically Syria, a State Department official told The National last week.

The US is seeking to apply more pressure on Iran’s proxies in Syria, hoping to drive them out of the country. Israel has carried out missile strikes against Iranian targets in Syria in the past three months.

Despite Russia’s warnings not to violate Syrian sovereignty, these strikes have continued.

The US came close to striking military targets in Iran on Thursday, after a US surveillance drone was shot down near the Strait of Hormuz.

But Mr Trump called off the strike at the last minute, he said, out of concern over the number of casualties.

Mr Netanyahu did not comment on the cancelled US strike on Israel's arch-foe but he welcomed the expected new sanctions.

Tehran has long been in a "campaign of aggression" against its Arab neighbours, the US and Israel, Mr Netanyahu said, and recent tension was not a result of increasing US pressures.

"Those who describe the recent actions as somehow opening a hornets' nest are living on another planet," he said.

"What's new is that now, thanks to crippling American sanctions, Iran is facing unprecedented economic pressure as a result of its aggression."

After withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran last May, the US has applied sanctions on Iran, hoping to force it into negotiating a broader agreement limiting its nuclear programme and regional influence.

Tension has increased across the region, with Iran-backed Houthis attacking Saudi installations, unknown forces carrying out rocket attacks across Iraq, and tankers being attacked in the Strait of Hormuz.

Mr Trump insists he is not seeking a new conflict in the Middle East, even while threatening Iran with destruction.

"I'm not looking for war," he told American news channel NBC on Friday. "If there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that."

Updated: June 24, 2019 12:29 AM

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