WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday vented its anger at the Israeli defense minister’s public criticism of the US and his personal insults of Secretary of State John Kerry.
In a new sign of tension between top officials of the two allies as Washington tries to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest recent remarks by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Ya’alon this week accused the Obama administration of being weak on Iran and questioned its commitment to Israel’s security. Previously, Ya’alon has criticized Kerry for being unrealistic and naive in trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Ya’alon’s remarks were “not constructive” and “inconsistent” with the close relationship between the US and Israel.
“Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning and protested to him his concerns about these comments,” she said, adding that the United States has an “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security.
“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.”
But Kerry has a “thick skin” and “we’re ready to move forward and keep talking about the peace process,” Psaki added.
She also noted that Netanyahu himself has spoken of an “unprecedented level” of security cooperation between the countries.
“The comments of the defense minister are completely inconsistent with that,” Psaki told reporters.
She would not say if Kerry had demanded an apology of Ya’alon, declined to characterize Netanyahu’s response to Kerry’s protests and referred questions about that to the Israeli government.
In Israel, an official in Ya’alon’s office said Netanyahu and Ya’alon had “discussed the recent reports” and added that the minister “will clarify what was said in his talks with the Americans.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the diplomatic matter with the media by name.
In remarks quoted in Israeli reports on Tuesday, Ya’alon said Israel cannot depend on the United States to lead any action against Iran’s nuclear program and can only rely on itself.
“If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world… I hope the United States comes to its senses. If it doesn’t, it will challenge the world order and the United States is the one that will suffer.”
He toughened his line on Iran and appeared ready to back an Israeli military strike during the remarks at Tel Aviv University.
“We had thought the ones who should lead the (military) campaign against Iran is the United States… But at some stage, the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better,” he said.
He also disparaged American influence and power, noting the ongoing crisis over Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Ya’alon has made controversial comments about Washington in the past.
In January, the State Department denounced as “offensive” comments made by the defense minister accusing Kerry of an “incomprehensible obsession” with his push for Middle East peace.
Ya’alon was later forced to apologize to the top US diplomat, who has been trying to hammer out for the past year a comprehensive peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.
AFP contributed to this report.