The Obama administration pushed back hard against Israel’s Defence Minister Tuesday for comments critical of the President’s projection of “weakness” in the face of world events. In a blistering personal attack reported Wednesday in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the administration accused Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon of “undermining” the security ties between Israel and the United States.
“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 said. “Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the defence minister disparages the U.S. administration, and insults its most senior officials. Given the unprecedented commitment that this administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the defence minister seems intent on undermining the relationship.”
The angry reaction came in response to an assortment of critical assessments of American foreign policy by Ya’alon in an address at Tel Aviv University, reported on Tuesday. Ya’alon said the United States “shows weakness” in various arenas around the world – including Ukraine – and that its allies in the Middle East are disappointed.
“I heard voices of disappointment in the [Middle East] region. I was in Singapore and heard disappointment about China getting stronger and the U.S. getting weaker. Look what’s happening in Ukraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately,” Ya’alon said.
Ya’alon issued a sharp critique of Washington’s attitude toward Iran, suggesting President Barack Obama would prefer to delay any confrontation until it could be passed on to his successor. “People know that Iran cheats,” Ya’alon said. “But comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation – if possible, to next year, or the next president. But in the end, it will blow up.” Ya’alon dismissed the possibility that America would act militarily against Iran, saying Israel must “behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.”
The anger with Ya’alon for his comments was compounded by previous off-the record comments he made in January which were leaked in which he mused that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had a “messianic obsession” with forcing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward.
The administration’s outburst was among the harshest statements ever against an Israeli minister. And Ya’alon is not just any minister: he is a high-ranking member of the Likud party, a popular former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and has a reputation for honesty and straight talk. He is considered a strong future contender to become prime minister.
While the Obama administration has been frequently publicly critical of Israel, particularly the policies of the Netanyahu government, it is rare for Israeli officials to publicly criticize the administration.