Have you followed the latest flap over Israel’s rightwing defense minister? He’s attacked the U.S. and had to apologize, after the matter became an international incident, thanks in part to Matt Lee of the Associated Press who suggested at the State Department that the minister ought to lose his job for undermining the alleged special relationship.
What does it say to you about your allegedly – I’m going to say now – close and enduring partnership when the defense minister of your top ally in the Middle East runs around making – insulting the Secretary of State and criticizing the President for being a wimp, essentially, and not defending Israel’s interests?
“Is it a good idea for this guy to still have this job?”
This isn’t the first time. Back in January, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon attacked John Kerry‘s peace effort, saying the US Secretary of State has a “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor” and should just win a Nobel Prize and then go away.
Ya’alon had to apologize.
This week Ya’alon publicly accused the US of weakness for failing to be the world’s policeman and stand up to Iran. Here’s Haaretz’s report on the comments:
On Monday, Ya’alon attacked the United States for failing to lead the campaign against Iran. “But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better,” said Ya’alon, speaking during an event at Tel Aviv University, as reported by Haaretz.
… [He] also criticized American conduct regarding the Ukraine crisis, as well as American relations with China and Asia. At one point, the defense minister had said: “Look what’s happening in Ukraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately.”
Ya’alon also said that the U.S. got as much out of all that military aid to Israel as Israel does.
JPost reported American rage over the comments:
“We were shocked by Moshe Ya’alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States,” a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night. “Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the defense minister disparages the US administration, and insults its most senior officials.”
And under heavy pressure from the U.S. and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Ya’alon apologized. JPost:
In a phone conversation with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday night, Ya’alon said that his comments “were not intended to express opposition, criticism or offense to the United States,” adding that maintaining strong ties with the United States is Israel’s utmost priority…
But is it a sincere apology? Notice JPost’s url for this story: “Americans-trying-to-deligitimize-Israels-Defense-Minister-Yaalon.” (I guess if you’re a tail wagging a dog for a long time, you start thinking you’re a dog.)
Cut to Foggy Bottom.
Before Ya’alon’s apology came out yesterday, the matter was taken up by AP’s Matt Lee and another reporter at yesterday’s press briefing at the State Department. At 33:00 or so.
Matt Lee: You are familiar or aware of the comments that the Israeli defense minister has made this week? What do you think of them?
MS. Jen PSAKI: Well, clearly, his comments were not constructive. Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, and he protested to him his concerns about these comments.
We maintain – the United States maintains an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. President Obama has provided an all-time high level of security assistance to Israel, including critical Iron Dome and missile defense funding, even during times of budget uncertainty, to provide Israel with unprecedented capabilities and options that help Israel better deal with regional threats and challenges. And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said that the breadth of our security cooperation is unprecedented.
So 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.
Lee: Well, what does it say to you about your allegedly – I’m going to say now – close and enduring partnership when the defense minister of your top ally in the Middle East runs around making – insulting the Secretary of State and criticizing the President for being a wimp, essentially, and not defending Israel’s interests? Does that really – is that reflective of a close – and maybe enduring, leave that out of it. I that indicative of a close relationship with either the defense minister himself or the Government of Israel, which employs this guy?
Ms. PSAKI: I don’t think it reflects the view of the Government of Israel, and I think it doesn’t reflect, naturally, our relationship.
QUESTION: Okay. What did – are you able to tell us anything about what the prime minister’s response to Secretary Kerry was when he protested Defense Minister Ya’alon?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into that conversation…. I’d point you to the Israelis.
QUESTION: Do you – from his call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, do you get the sense that Prime Minister Netanyahu agrees with his defense minister?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to characterize it. But I think I will just clearly say that I think there’s a recognition and a support for the strong security relationship between Israel and the United States by the Government of Israel. And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said that many times before.
Lee: Okay. So Prime Minister Netanyahu – his comments to the Secretary are indicative of the understanding in Israel that this is a close relationship? Is that —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to his specific comments but he has said many times in the past publicly about his support for the strong relationship.
Lee: Did the Secretary ask – then forget about Bibi’s response. Did the Secretary ask for either the prime minister to go out and make some comment and say something publicly? Did he ask the prime minister to tell the defense minister to go and make some comment – kind of comment publicly?
MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary is – has a tough skin and is happy to move on beyond this — but did feel it was important to express his concern about the comments.
Lee: The problem is that this seems to go beyond just him and his – whether he has tough skin or not. The defense minister seems to be – is questioning the very essence of the relationship and suggesting that the United States does not have Israel’s security at its – as a policy anymore. That seems fundamentally at odds with everything that you have been – that this Administration has been trying to say. Is it a good idea for this guy to still have this job?
MS. PSAKI: And does not – that is not something I would speak to, Matt.
Lee: What does it say about Prime – if Prime Minister Netanyahu is not prepared to publicly rebuke the defense minister or fire him or at least say – to say something publicly, to say that he does not agree, what does that say about the relationship?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to what he is or isn’t prepared to do. I just outlined what specifically the facts are, which you’re very familiar with, about our security relationship. The comments of the defense minister are completely inconsistent with that. So that’s what I would point you to.
Lee: Well, would you like an apology?
MS. PSAKI: That is not – we’re ready to move forward and keep talking about the peace process, Matt.
QUESTION: Can we stay on this for one second? You just said that you don’t think he was speaking for the Israeli Government when he made his comments, but have you received that assurance from the Israeli side?
MS. PSAKI: I think many, many Israeli officials have spoken publicly, including the prime minister, consistently over the last weeks, months, and years about the strength of our security relationship and the importance of our – the enduring bond between the United States and Israel.
QUESTION: Sure. But I mean previously, when – I mean, in other cases, when members of a country’s government make certain statements that seem out of line or somehow inappropriate —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d point you to the Israeli Government. You can ask them this question.
QUESTION: — they – somehow they – sometimes those kinds of – the governments of those officials make it clear to you that it’s – that they weren’t speaking for the government.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for the Israeli Government, so you can certainly lob that question to them, if you’d like.
QUESTION: But does it concern you that you haven’t received that assurance from them?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve addressed this question. Next question?
QUESTION: On the missing flight?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. The missing flight, sure.