WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton arrived in Israel on Sunday for discussions on the security situation in Syria. Bolton will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and will stay in Israel for 48 hours. This is his first visit to Israel since assuming the role of national security adviser in March.
Israel will be the first stop on Bolton's three-country tour taking place this week. From Israel he will fly to Geneva where he is scheduled to meet with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev.
The fact the Bolton is stopping in Jerusalem before meeting Patrushev could signal that the Trump administration wants to hear Israel's views and positions on Syria before discussing any possible agreement with Russia on the subject.
A senior White House official told Haaretz over the weekend that Syria was the main issue during the meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders met last month for the summit in Helsinki. The official said three weeks prior to that meeting, when Bolton was in Moscow for preparations, Putin told him that he doesn't want to see Iranian forces remain in Syria but he's not sure Russia alone can get Iranian forces out of the country.
- Trump's perverse appeasement of Putin will rebound on Israel
- Russia-Israel deal is clear: Iran away from border, Assad’s rule accepted
- Can Israel really trust Russia to remove Iranian forces from Syria?
"That seems to be a correct observation," the official said, with regards to Putin's assessment. Iran currently has thousands of soldiers and militia fighters operating in Syria; Iran also expects to reap the benefits of Syria's reconstruction process once the war is over. Iranian officials have said that Tehran will not agree under any circumstance to remove its forces from Syria.
Russia is currently keeping Iranian forces at a distance of 85 kilometers from Israel's border, but the Israeli and American position over the past year has consistently been that Iran needs to remove all of its forces from Syria. Putin shares that position but doubts whether it can be implemented, according to the official.
However, the official added "it's getting harder for Iran to keep its presence in Syria, because of the economic toll of our sanctions. The military threat they pose in Syria is a big concern everywhere in the region."
Netanyahu is expected to re-affirm Israel's position on this issue during talks with Bolton. The two will also discuss the U.S. policy toward Iran, as well as other security issues in the Middle East.
An Israeli official has estimated that the Palestinian issue will not be a major talking point during Bolton's visit since it is mostly handled by other officials in the administration, such as special envoy's Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt.