He said that Iran’s invasion of Israeli airspace with a surprisingly advanced unmanned aerial vehicle, and Israel’s strong military response against Syrian air defenses was an example of “just how complex the situation is throughout that part of the Middle East, and therefore why anyone incident has a potential to escalate.”
“Most people think this was an Iranian drone flown out of Syria,” he continued. “What this means is that Iran is right on Israel’s border. Iran has long been the largest state funder of international terrorism. We know they’re trying to get nuclear weapons, their ballistic missile program is well advanced, so Israel and many of the Arab states in the region are threatened.”
According to Bolton, Israel retaliated “quite properly” to Iran’s action, regrettably losing an F-16 fighter jet in the process, which he believed was the first Israeli F-16 to be shot down in ten years.
He said, “You have to ask: did the Syrians suddenly get a lot better? I think the answer to that is no. Probably what that means is there is a more sophisticated anti-aircraft air defense system now deployed in Syria. Is it a Russian S-300? Maybe something less sophisticated? Is it manned by Iranian soldiers? Quite possibly. Were there Russian advisers nearby? Did the Russian advisers participate in the air defense? We don’t know. It’s a question worth asking.”
The incident was linked to defensive U.S. airstrikes in Syria over the past week, Bolton believes. Forces loyal to the regime in Damascus approached Syrian rebel positions where American advisers were present. He noted, “It turns out that the result of the airstrike by American forces was dozens—or, if you look at some press reports, a hundred or two hundred—so-called ‘Russian mercenaries’.”
“Russia is projecting power in the Middle East. They are aligned with Iran. This is a very dangerous moment there for Israel, for some of the oil-producing monarchies—and obviously it’s dangerous for us, too,” Bolton warned, and added, “The Trump administration has a lot of ground to make up here.” He called Iran, “the principal threat to peace and security in the region.”
Bolton also talked about the American intelligence community’s latest worldwide threat assessment — which he felt underestimated the dangers of nuclear proliferation. “We are facing a very hard decision with North Korea in the very near future. Iran is right behind them. If these two countries get deliverable nuclear weapons, I think you’re going to see a massive spread to other wannabe nuclear weapons states,” he warned.