Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon seems to really know how to push the Obama Administration’s buttons. For at least the second time this year, Washington on Wednesday issued public complaints over Ya’alon’s criticism of its handling of international affairs.
Speaking at a closed-door event at Tel Aviv University on Monday, Ya’alon said Israel could not rely on a “weak” United States to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. He said that image of weakness had only been bolstered by the Obama Administration’s feeble handling of the crises in Syria and Ukraine.
Ya’alon continued by criticizing Washington for entering into negotiations with Iran, rather than standing firm on either sanctions or a military threat. He noted that the Iranian regime is far more wily, and had been consistently outmaneuvering the Americans in the ongoing nuclear talks.
In an episode that began to play out like a schoolyard tiff, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was the direct target of Ya’alon’s criticism in January, indignantly phoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to complain over his defense minister’s remarks.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki was also miffed when reporters asked her about Ya’alon’s harsh comments. “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,” she said.
A day later, Ya’alon was made to phone US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and apologize.
“In my statements, there was no antagonism or criticism or intent to harm the United States or [Israel’s] relations with it,” read a statement issued by Ya’alon’s office after the make-up call.
“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,” the statement continued.
A source in the Ministry of Defense later told Israel’s Ynet news portal that Ya’alon loves America and fully appreciates Israel’s relationship with it, but will never shy away from speaking his mind. The source charged that the Obama Administration is “out to get” Ya’alon because it doesn’t like having to deal with Israeli officials who stand their ground.
Another Israeli political expert told The Times of Israel that Washington’s reaction to Ya’alon’s remarks is nothing short of “childish.” He said the Obama Administration is already fully aware that Ya’alon is a man who “doesn’t mince words,” and more often than not is saying exactly what most other Israelis, including Netanyahu, are thinking.