US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is due to visit Israel next week amid ongoing tensions caused by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s disparaging comments towards the Obama administration.
On Sunday, Dempsey will arrive in Jerusalem, where he will meet with Ya’alon in person, Reuters reported.
As of Saturday, the US was still waiting for a formal apology from Ya’alon for comments he made last week, in which he accused the Obama administration of being weak on Iran.
State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters more than a week ago that the US was “disappointed with the lack of apology” from Ya’alon, despite the fact that he spoke with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and issued a statement indicating regret over his statements.
“We still have remaining concerns about Ya’alon’s pattern of behavior,” she said. “I think we clearly expressed our displeasure by his offensive comments and an apology would be a natural next step.”
Israel’s Channel 2 last week quoted a senior, unnamed American source complaining about Ya’alon’s “insulting and disappointing” comments about figures in the administration.
The same report suggested that the Obama administration, in keeping the dispute alive, was trying to “delegitimize” Ya’alon, who holds hawkish positions on dealing with the Palestinians. The defense minister said in a TV interview earlier this month that Mahmoud Abbas was “not a partner” for a viable permanent accord and that he did not expect to see peace in his lifetime.
According to a statement issued by Ya’alon’s office, he told Hagel that he had no intention of harming the US or ties with it. The ostensible apology was Ya’alon’s second in two months for remarks knocking the Obama administration.
“In my statements, there was no antagonism or criticism or intent to harm the United States or [Israel’s] relations with it,” he said. “The strategic relationship between the two countries as well as the personal relationship and mutual interests are of utmost importance. I value the relationship at all levels, between Israel and the United States in general and the security establishment in particular.”
Ya’alon 12 days ago had questioned the US administration’s commitment to Israel’s security, saying Israel would have to act alone to thwart Tehran’s nuclear drive.
The statements, delivered in a closed event at a university but promptly leaked, provoked a harsh response from the US, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in protest.
“It is certainly confusing to us why Defense Minister Ya’alon would continue his pattern of making comments that don’t accurately represent the scope of our close partnership on a range of security issues and on the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel,” Psaki had told reporters.
According to the defense minister’s statement, Ya’alon told Hagel, “I have a very deep appreciation for the relationship between [Israel and the US] and for you personally. I greatly admired these relations even as Chief of Staff and I appreciate them to this day as defense minister, and I am aware of their full depth and significance. I have a total commitment to these relations and to [advancing] the cooperation between Israel and the United States in every way.”
Hagel was said to have been empathetic in talking to Ya’alon, and suggested that some of his remarks might have been taken out of context, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported. However, a statement issued by the US Defense Department stopped short of referring to Ya’alon’s call as an apology, instead saying that Hagel thanked the defense minister for his clarification.
Two months ago, Ya’alon was also forced to issue an apology to Kerry over private comments in which the minister blasted the top American diplomat, among other critiques, for his “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” efforts to produce an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.