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Israel should thank US for support, stresses Ya’alon

Defense minister seeks to calm tensions as he heads to America to meet with Defense Secretary Hagel

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, center left, and Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon, to his right, at the Pentagon, on October 8, 2013 (photo credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense)
US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, center left, and Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon, to his right, at the Pentagon, on October 8, 2013 (photo credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sought to smooth over a war of words between some US and Israeli officials, stressing the importance of the bilateral relationship on Saturday.

“Relations between the US and Israel are based on shared interests and values, and we can’t let this disagreement or that cast a shadow on them,” he said, hours before he flew to America for a series of meetings.

“America assists Israel in a wide range of fields, including of course security, and we must remember this and thank the US and its leaders for this. There are intimate relationships between the two countries’ security establishments, unprecedented in their scope and in their importance for Israel’s security, and between me and my friend Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel there are close relations.”

Ya’alon is expected to meet with Hagel, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio. He will also be interviewed on American media outlets, will meet with US Jewish leaders, and will attend ceremonies at Ground Zero in NY and at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC, NRG reported.

Ya’alon’s comments came after some in Israel interpreted remarks Thursday by US Secretary of State John Kerry as linking the rise of extremist Islam to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking at an event marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha at the State Department, Kerry said it was “imperative” to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, since the conflict was helping the Islamic State recruit new members. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, in turn, indicated Kerry was using an anti-Semitic canard.

Earlier Saturday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman lashed out at Bennett, accusing him for trying to make political gains off Kerry’s remarks.

Liberman told Channel 2 in a Saturday evening interview that while criticizing Kerry might earn the Jewish Home party leader a few votes in a future election, “it will also inflict very sizable political damage.”

“There can be differences of opinion between friends, but there needn’t be attacks,” Liberman said, in veiled reference to Bennett’s remarks.

Head of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, smiles during a party conference on September 10 (photo credit: Flash90)
Head of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, smiles during a party conference on September 10 (photo credit: Flash90)

Kerry came under fire from right-wing Israeli politicians Friday, with Bennett and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan accusing the top US diplomat of showing an unprecedented lack of understanding of the Middle East.

Writing on Facebook, Bennett, who heads the nationalist Jewish Home party, a major coalition member, linked to an article about Kerry’s remarks, commenting in Hebrew that “Even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, someone will always blame the Jew.”

Gilad Erdan on July 8, 2013. (photo credit: Flash 90)
Gilad Erdan on July 8, 2013. (photo credit: Flash 90)

Likud minister Erdan, thought to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pick to become Interior Minister, also blasted Kerry on Facebook, asking sarcastically whether anybody truly believes Islamic State fighters would put down their arms if Israeli-Palestinian talks were restarted.

“I actually respect Kerry and his efforts, but every time he breaks new records of showing a lack of understanding of our region and the essence of the conflict in the Middle East I have trouble respecting what he says,” he wrote in Hebrew.

Liberman responded to criticism of Kerry, saying “I think there’s no alternative for us to the United States, and such incitement only hurts [us].”

The US State Department denied claims Friday that Kerry made statements on Thursday suggesting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fueling the spread of Islamic terror in the Middle East.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the State Department was aware of the reactions by Israeli officials to the comments, especially those of “a particular minister.”

“What [Kerry] said was that during his travels to build a coalition against the Islamic State, he was told that should the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved, the Middle East would be a better place,” Harf said.

“Either he [Bennett] didn’t read what the secretary said or he was given false information,” she added.

“[Kerry’s] comments were distorted for political gains. He did not make that connection.”

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report. 

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