Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met on Sunday with America’s highest-ranked soldier, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, amid ongoing tensions caused by Ya’alon’s disparaging comments earlier this month towards the Obama administration. The meeting was attended by IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, as well as other Israeli and US security officials.
“We are in a critical week with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Ya’alon said after the meeting, apparently referring to the Palestinian demand to release hundreds of prisoners in exchange for an agreement to extend peace talks for another six months.
“We appreciate the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and the commitment and contribution of President Barack Obama,” Ya’alon said after the meeting, according to Ynet.
The US is “truly our best friend,” he added.
Dempsey, meanwhile, joked that his wife is upset he speaks more to Israel’s military chief, Gantz, than to her. Neither Dempsey nor Ya’alon, however, made any mention of the spat between the defense minister and the Obama administration.
Later Sunday, Dempsey met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two reportedly discussed the US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu praised Dempsey, as well as the American commitment to Israel’s security.
“Welcome to Jerusalem again, this is an expression of the close alliance between us,” Netanyahu told Dempsey.
The prime minister also thanked the US for its support of Israel’s advanced missile defense systems.
Dempsey is scheduled to meet with Gantz on Monday.
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.
Ya’alon had called the US “weak” and said 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 Kerry calling Netanyahu in protest.
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.
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,” he said.
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.