Following what some in the press are describing as a serious tension between the United States and Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon apologized late on January 14 in order to allay fears of a burgeoning diplomatic break between the two countries. Just before midnight in Israel, Ya’alon issues a statement in which he apologized for "insulting" Secretary of State John Kerry and for describing the former Democratic Senator from Massachusetts as "obsessive and messianic."
"The defense minister did not intend to insult the secretary and he apologizes if the secretary was hurt by the remarks attributed to the defense minister," declared a statement from the Israeli Defense Ministry. The mea culpa came after a two-hour meeting of minds in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ya’alon worked out the wording of the apology. An earlier statement made by Ya’alon was found unacceptable by the U.S. government.
Senior U.S. diplomats, in a pique over the comments attributed to Ya’alon, demanded that Netanyahu take the matter into hand. In a statement attributed to a senior U.S. official the demand was clear: "We expect the Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] to put this right by publicly expressing his disagreement with the statements against Secretary Kerry, the negotiations with the Palestinians and Kerry's commitment to Israel's security." A spokesperson for the State Department, Jennifer Psaki, told the Israeli daily Haaretz on the evening of January 14 that Ya’alon’s remarks were "offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the U.S. is doing to support Israel's security needs."
Psaki said, "Secretary Kerry and his team, including General John Allen, have been working day and night to try and promote a secure peace for Israel, because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future. To question Secretary Kerry's motives and distort his proposal is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally." Ya’alon’s statements, on and off the record, came as Kerry is on a mission to bring about an accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Yedioth Aharonoth, another Israeli daily, quoted Ya’alon as derisively describing Kerry as "obsessive and messianic," while he also said that top U.S. diplomat should "get a Nobel Prize and leaves us alone." Even while Ya’alon’s supporters have denied he made the statements, the statements were quoted last week in Israel Today, another local daily. These supporters said that a writer for the Yediot Aharnot daily, Shimon Shiffer, broke established rules of a background briefing by quoting Ya’alon. The statement from Ya’alon did not deny he had made the remarks in question, but he also reaffirmed his commitment to cooperating with Kerry.
Before his night-time meeting with Netanyahu, Ya’alon issued a statement saying, “Relations between the U.S. and Israel are intimate and of great importance to Israel. The U.S. is our greatest friend and our most important ally. When there are disagreements we deal with them directly, including with Secretary Kerry, with whom I hold many conversations concerning Israel's future.”
For his part, Netanyahu distanced himself from Ya'alon's remarks, but did not condemn them. "The U.S. is our largest partner and the partnership is founded on shared values and interests," Netanyahu said. "Even when there are disagreements between us, they are always substantive and not personal. We work in full cooperation with Vice-President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry to advanced peace and security in the region. We stand firm regarding our own interests, while promoting the important connection between our two countries."
The Obama administration is believed to have been listening carefully for similar statements from Israeli government circles in recent weeks. An article at Haaretz said “The assumption in Washington is that certain elements in the Israeli government believe that Kerry is promoting the Israel-Palestine peace agreement as a personal project, without the support of President Barack Obama.”