WASHINGTON — John Bolton, President Bush’s embattled choice to serve as American ambassador at the United Nations, is widely seen in Washington as a strong supporter of Israel. But recent media reports suggest that his support for the Jewish state goes further than previously believed.
Senate staffers are reportedly probing many allegations regarding Bolton’s management style, including claims that Bolton took part in unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials and prevented a State Department memo accusing Israel of violating American arms-export laws from reaching the desk of then secretary of state Colin Powell.
Two weeks ago, with opposition toward Bolton mounting, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee postponed its vote on the nomination.
Bolton, the State Department’s top official on arms control, is known as a strong supporter of Israel’s position that Tehran is coming alarmingly close to being able to weaponize its nuclear material. He gained the respect of pro-Israel activists in 1991 when, as assistant secretary of state for international organizations, he masterminded and steered the successful initiative to repeal the U.N. resolution that equated Zionism with racism.
According to a report in U.S. News & World Report, senate staffers are investigating suspicions that Bolton, in his current position of under secretary of state for arms control, shelved the memo suggesting that Israel violated American laws with its July 23, 2000, assassination of Salah Shehada, a senior Hamas activist in Gaza City.
Israel’s air force used an American-made F-16 bomber to drop a one-ton bomb on a house in a densely populated part of Gaza, where Shehada was staying. The bomb killed him, as well as 14 civilians, and injured more than 100 people. According to U.S. News, several offices of the State Department, including the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the legal office, issued a report saying that the attack represented a violation of America’s Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits American weapons from being used for nondefensive purposes.
Bolton reportedly disagreed with that judgment, and had officials draft a “split memo” for Secretary of State Colin Powell presenting both positions.
Late one evening, U.S. News reported, Bolton recalled the report, just as it was about to make its way to Powell’s office, and allegedly replaced it with a new memo. That memo supposedly did not mention the assessment that Israel may have violated American laws. As a result, Powell never learned that some of his staffers disagreed with Bolton, officials told U.S. News.
Another allegation that Senate staffers are reportedly investigating is that Bolton routinely arranged meetings with officials from foreign countries without first notifying the State Department offices responsible for relations with the countries. Israel is on the shortlist, together with Russia, Britain and France.
Former State Department officials, who told The New York Times about Bolton’s alleged practice, reportedly characterized it as unusual and as a violation of departmental procedures.
In Israel, Bolton reportedly met with officials of the Mossad intelligence agency without seeking “country clearance” from the State Department’s Office Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.