Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon found himself apologizing for the second time in recent weeks for harsh comments made about the US government.
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.
Ya'alon expressed his appreciation for the close relationship Israel shares with the United States, and emphasized his full commitment to cooperation between the two nations.
Hagel thanked Ya'alon for his clarification, acknowledging that some of the comments may have been taken out of context.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu already began his efforts at damage control earlier in the day.
Hours after senior US officials slammed Ya’alon for his latest criticism of American policy, Netanyahu told the Knesset on Wednesday the US remained Israel’s greatest ally.
“We also appreciate the very high security and intelligence cooperation, including during the incident with the Iranian arms ship [the Klos C, which the Israel Navy seized on March 5],” Netanyahu said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu on Wednesday to protest Ya’alon’s comments, stopping short of calling for his resignation, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“Clearly his comments were not constructive,” Psaki told reporters at her daily briefing. “It is certainly confusing to us.”
Psaki added that Kerry does not believe Ya’alon’s comments “reflect the view of the government of Israel.”
Ya’alon was quoted by Haaretz as saying at a Tel Aviv University event on Monday that America’s aid to Israel needed to be “seen in proportion,” and that it was not a one-way street.
“It isn’t a favor America is doing, it’s in their interest,” he said. “They get quality intelligence and technology.
We invented [the] Iron Dome [anti-rocket system]. The wings of the F-35 stealth fighter – we invented. We invented the Arrow [anti-ballistic missile system].”
Ya’alon’s comments and other remarks he made critical of US foreign policy triggered withering criticism from a senior US official.
“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.”
Ya’alon, in his speech at Tel Aviv University, said that in light of the US’s policies in the Middle East, with China and with Russia, it has developed an image in the world of “feebleness.”
“The moderate Sunni camp in the area expected the United States to support it, and to be firm, like Russia’s support for the Shi’ite axis,” Ya’alon said. “I heard voices of disappointment in the region. I was in Singapore and heard disappointment about China getting stronger and the US getting weaker. Look what’s happening in Ukraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately.”
Ya’alon criticized the US for showing weakness globally.
“If you sit and wait at home, the terrorism will come again,” he said. “Even if you hunker down, it will come.
This is a war of civilizations. If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world. Nobody will replace the United States as global policeman. I hope the United States comes to its senses. If it doesn’t, it will challenge the world order, and the United States is the one that will suffer.”
On Iran, Ya’alon said that “comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation. If possible to next year, or the next president. But in the end it will blow up.” The US was being out-negotiated by Iran, and that “on this matter we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us, but ourselves,” he said.
The US official told the Post that “given the unprecedented commitment that this administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the defense minister seems intent on undermining the relationship.”
The comments came two weeks after Ya’alon was criticized for saying in a private conversation that Kerry’s diplomatic efforts stemmed from an “incomprehensible obsession” and “a messianic feeling.” The State Department demanded an apology for those comments, which Ya’alon delivered at the time, at Netanyahu’s insistence.
Sources in Ya’alon’s office said that he discussed the latest incident with the prime minister on Wednesday, and that the defense minister would clarify his comments to the Americans.
Meanwhile, Ynet quoted sources close to Ya’alon as saying that some in the Obama administration were “trying to hurt” the defense minister’s “legitimacy and his great popularity.”
One source said that “the Americans are calling him a ‘hard nut to crack’ and an ‘extremist,’ but in actuality he is standing firm facing what he identifies as a danger to the state and the security of its citizens.”
JPost.com Staff contributed to this report.