Finance Minister Yair Lapid warned on Saturday that a crisis exists in Israeli-American relations, after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was snubbed by the Obama administration during his trip to Washington last week.
“There is a crisis with the US and we should treat it as a crisis,” Lapid said.
“Relations with the US are necessary and important to the State of Israel and we must do everything in the world to get out of the crisis,” he said at a cultural event in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
A US official confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that Ya’alon was categorically snubbed by the administration during his visit to Washington last week. He was denied meetings he requested with both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The denial was a reaction to comments that Ya’alon made in a private conversation in January in which he called Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic” – comments that were leaked to the media.
“We were shocked by some of the comments that he has made in the past, so it should come as no surprise that he wasn’t able to get some of the meetings he requested,” a US official told the Post on Friday.
In an interview with The Washington Post during his trip, Ya’alon was quizzed about his comments about Kerry.
“We overcame that,” he told paper.
At a later point in the interview he said, “I can tell you that between the Pentagon and the Israel Defense Forces there is an unbreakable bond.”
Ya’alon acknowledged that there are disputes among politicians, but he noted that, “With all the disputes, the United States is Israel’s strategic ally.”
During his visit to Washington, Ya’alon also sought a meeting with National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
While none of those meetings was granted, Ya’alon was received by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, with a small honor guard.
He also met with US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power in New York.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki downplayed reports that Ya’alon had been snubbed, noting that the defense minister had met with his American counterpart, Hagel. This is “natural standard procedure,” she said.
With regard to Ya’alon’s past comments about Kerry, Psaki said that the secretary of state acknowledged in January that “he’d been the target of much worse than words. And I think, obviously, he works closely with a range of Israeli officials and he didn’t meet with him this time.”
On Saturday, Lapid urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to repair the country’s relations with its closest ally.
“Israel must do everything...
to get out of this crisis and return to good relations,” the finance minister added, calling for Israel to show the US respect and responsibility.
Lapid posited that if relations between Washington and Jerusalem were better, Israel could have participated in the donor conference in Cairo on rebuilding Gaza, held earlier this month.
Netanyahu did meet with US officials, including President Barack Obama and Kerry when he was in Washington earlier this month.
But tensions between the two countries have deepened, particularly over the issue of settlement activity. America, however, still stands with Israel at the United Nations and gave strong support during this summer’s Gaza war, including funding for Iron Dome batteries.
Former defense minister and prime minister Ehud Barak said in an interview on Channel 1 that “the US is Israel’s most important ally. We are a sovereign state and we don’t need to accept anyone’s dictates, but at the same time, we have to respect the US’s sovereignty and we need to show mutual respect.
“There should be no mistake – support for us in the US is not growing and that is a disconcerting phenomenon,” he added.
Barak had very warm relations with the US, and had met with Obama during some of his Washington visits.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said the crisis is unprecedentedly bad.
“This isn’t a passing problem. It is a deep severance in the most important relations for the State of Israel as a result of Netanyahu’s actions, ruining the US’s efforts to promote a peace process and his non-stop interference in US politics together with Obama’s rivals. These things harm Israeli interests,” he stated.
Horowitz added that Lapid is not innocent and that he is also responsible for the crisis as Netanyahu’s senior coalition partner.
However, MK Danny Danon (Likud), who was fired from his post as deputy defense minister during Operation Protective Edge, said there is no crisis in US-Israel relations.
Danon recounted visiting the Pentagon during the summer, saying “I was exposed to the depth of important strategic cooperation between the two countries.
The US is Israel’s most important ally and there is no argument on that.”
“Our years-old alliance is strong and will continue to be for the coming generations.
Disagreements between allies are legitimate,” he stated.