Hiding Real News in Trivialities

National Security Advisor of the United States John Bolton, at a press conference at Israeli PM Netanyahu’s office in Yerushalayim, August 20, 2018. (Ohad Zweigenberg)

Fake news isn’t just the spread of false information. It’s also the practice of obsessing on the less-significant news in order to hide the significant achievements of a political opponent.

In its pathological attempt to deny President Donald Trump any successes on either the domestic or international fronts, the media has consistently focused on the relatively insignificant in order to distract and confuse readers. The latest example to come to light is last month’s Helsinki summit between the president and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Much ink was spilled on the press conference that followed the summit, in which Mr. Trump indicated that he accepted Mr. Putin’s denial of election interference, over the judgment of his own intelligence community. The U.S. president later clarified that he had misspoken, but that didn’t stop the media from treating the press conference as an example of how he had been outmaneuvered by the Russian and brought terrible shame to the United States.

Now it emerges that the summit made significant strides in improving Washington’s ties with Moscow and produced agreements that benefit America’s allies, chief among them Israel.

National Security Adviser John Bolton, in an interview with ABC News on Sunday, given before embarking on his maiden visit to Israel in his current capacity, revealed that Mr. Putin had agreed on the need for Iran to withdraw totally from Syrian territory.

“The objective of the United States, of Israel — President Putin said it was Russia’s objective — is to get Iran, Iranian forces, Iranian militias, Iranian surrogates out of the offensive operations they’re in in both Syria and Iraq, and, frankly, to end Iran’s support for Hezbollah,” Mr. Bolton said.

“President Putin is very candid in his comments to President Trump, he was to me as well. He said he didn’t have the same interest as Iran in Syria. And that he’d like to talk about ways to get out of them.”

It is impossible to understate the danger to Israel of a continued Iranian presence in Syria. In February, an armed, unmanned Iranian aircraft penetrated Israeli airspace from Syria before being shot down by the IDF.

In May, Iranian forces stationed in Syria launched roughly two dozen rockets at northern Israel, prompting retaliatory attacks by the IDF.

Previously, senior Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, insisted that it was “absolutely unrealistic” to expect Iran to completely withdraw from Syria. But at the summit, which focused heavily on Syria, Mr. Putin sang a different tune.

While it is impossible to know who and what changed the Russian leader’s mind — Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has traveled frequently to Moscow to present Israel’s case on the imperative to remove Iran from Syria — it is clear that the summit was a turning point in drawing the Russian and American leaders closer together on important issues like Syria and a new nuclear disarmament treaty between the two powers.

According to a report in Haaretz, Mr. Putin confided in the U.S. national security adviser that he doesn’t want to see Iranian forces remain in Syria but isn’t sure that Russia alone can get them to leave. After all, Iran has thousands of soldiers and militiamen in Syria and has no interest in leaving before it has had a chance to participate in the economic bonanza of helping Syria rebuild.

But Russia doesn’t have to go it alone, because the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal) and the re-imposition of economic sanctions have already begun to weaken Iran.

As Mr. Bolton put it Sunday: “The president’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has put a real crimp into the Iranian economy. I think they’re feeling it and their capability for the Quds Force or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to conduct offensive operations [has been reduced].”

Most important, in terms of weakening Iran, is the new, unprecedented alliance between Washington and Yerushalayim. It is noteworthy that Mr. Bolton’s first stop this week was in Israel, for 48 hours, before proceeding to Geneva to meet his Russian counterpart, as a follow-up to the summit meeting.

The unspoken message is that this administration is interested in hearing Israel’s views on issues as critical as the Iranian presence in Syria before its top representatives meet with the Russians. What a departure from former President Barack Obama, who cut a deal on the Iranian nuclear program without soliciting Israel’s advice and concerns, giving Tehran the impression that Israel’s star had dimmed in Washington and it was more vulnerable.

There’s no doubt that the current president has rough edges, especially in the context of international diplomacy. But it’s inexcusable for the media to focus exclusively on the relatively minor, in an attempt to mask very real achievements.