Neither US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made any statements to the press before or after their morning meeting in Jerusalem Tuesday.
American sources said the unusual “no statements” framework was at the insistence of the US delegation. Last week, when British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond met with Netanyahu two days after the Iran nuclear deal was signed and a day after he had told the House Of Commons that there was no deal that would have been acceptable to Israel, Netanyahu and Hammond sparred openly at their joint appearance.
About eight hours after his talks with Carter, during a meeting with visiting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Netanyahu did publicly address the earlier conversation, relating that he complained to the defense secretary at length about the Iran deal, calling it a “historic mistake.”
And Carter, during remarks to US, French, Belgian, British, Jordanian and other international troops at an air base in Jordan, mentioned that Netanyahu had been blunt behind closed doors. “The prime minister made it quite clear that he disagreed with us with respect to the nuclear deal in Iran,” Carter said. “But friends can disagree.”
US officials played down the fact that no public statements were made before or after the Ashton-Netanyahu meeting, saying that it was not uncommon for senior US officials to suffice with a photo op or a handshake.
Carter was primarily hosted by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who accompanied him at various stages during his stay in Israel, the officials said. The two defense chiefs held two meetings at the IDF headquarter in Tel Aviv, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and took a trip to Israel’s North together. They also held a joint press conference on Monday.
The lack of a statement by Netanyahu and Carter did not go unnoticed by the traveling press corps.
Tensions high after Iran nuclear deal, Carter/Netanyahu forgo opening remarks ahead of meeting pic.twitter.com/fpphPbjkZM
— Phil Stewart (@phildstewart) July 21, 2015
The Prime Minister’s Office said it was agreed in advance between the two sides that Netanyahu and Carter would not make statements prior to their meeting, but refused to explain the reasons behind the decision.
Sources familiar with the planning of the trip said it was a “specific American request” not to address the press during Carter’s meeting with Netanyahu, which came amid a low point in ties between Jerusalem and Washington surrounding disagreements over the Iran nuclear deal.
Carter arrived in Israel on Sunday night for his first visit since becoming defense secretary in February. On Tuesday afternoon he continued to Jordan, from where he will continue to Saudi Arabia before concluding his weeklong Middle East trip.
The Pentagon chief came to Israel to try to reassure Israel in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal, discussing with senior defense officials ways in which the administration can boost its security assistance to Israel.
Ya’alon and Carter “discussed steps to strengthen mutual security in the region, from missile defense and cybersecurity to Israel’s qualitative military edge and joint contingency plans for regional situations,” according to the Defense Department’s website.
Washington’s pledge to defend Israel remains rock solid, Carter said during Monday’s press conference with Ya’alon. “Next year, Israel will be our first and only friend in the region flying the F-35 stealth fighter,” he remarked. “As Minister Ya’alon and I discussed in our meeting, if more is needed in the future, then we’ll do more. Going forward we will ensure that our forces and the unmatched power they bring to bear remain kept at the ready.”
Netanyahu, who vociferously opposes the Iran nuclear agreement, has so far refused to publicly discuss the administration’s efforts to upgrade US security assistance to Israel let this be understood as a tacit approval of the deal. On Sunday, he wondered aloud why Israel would need security compensation if the deal is supposed to make Israel safer.