Two days after sparking a dispute between Israel and the US by disparaging Washington, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon walked back his statement in a phone call with his American counterpart late Wednesday night.
Ya’alon told Chuck Hagel he had no intention of harming the US or ties with it, according to a Hebrew-language statement released by his office. The apology was Ya’alon’s second in two months for remarks disparaging 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 on Monday had accused the Obama administration of being weak on Iran and questioned its 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 earlier Wednesday 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,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.
According to the issued 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 late Wednesday.
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.