There has been bad blood lately between Israel and the US. It’s not clear yet what the cause of this tension is, but it’s definitely detrimental to our health. For some time now, Israeli officials have been criticizing the US, especially regarding what they see as its administration’s over-involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. These officials, who are surely serving as the unofficial mouthpiece of the Prime Minister’s Office, have publicly denounced the US time and again. The criticism often times arrives from anonymous sources, but it is quite harsh nonetheless.
However, recently Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has been the one leading this crusade. Just a few weeks ago, in a statement he made “off the record,” which quickly became “on the record,” Ya’alon made an extremely harsh comment about US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Immediately afterwards, he was asked politely – but firmly – by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to apologize, and each of the three times he did so over the next 24 hours just made the matter even worse.
And while this incident was still fresh in our minds, Ya’alon was secretly recorded during a Tel Aviv University lecture making more anti-US comments.
He expressed disappointment that the US had decided not to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, and that US President Barack Obama was intent on avoiding the use of force. “Everyone knows that Iran is deceiving us, but the Westerners prefer to avoid any confrontations if they can,” he is quoted as saying. Ya’alon claims that the US comes out looking weak in every region in the world, and as a result is letting down its allies.
In the past, the US administration and its official spokespeople tended to downplay the importance of such criticism.
But the moment such comments come directly from the horse’s mouth? In this case, the defense minister himself? It’s difficult for the US to stick its head in the sand.
“We were surprised by the defense minister’s remarks, which impose doubt on his commitment to Israeli-US relations.
We have noticed a disturbing pattern in which the defense minister expresses contempt for the United States government and insults its most senior staff members. In light of the US administration’s unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security, we wonder why the defense minister is so determined to undermine this relationship.”
The Americans’ temper right now is short. I don’t ever remember hearing such an angry reaction from the Americans, who are usually very careful to use good manners. A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of another rocket attack on Israel, the US announced that it had transferred an additional $429 million to Israel to finance the production of missiles and missile batteries.
This American aid is so generous, and yet it turns out that the bottleneck in mobilizing the Iron Dome is in training IDF personnel. And in case anyone has forgotten: Israel developed this technology, but the US paid for it.
In short, if the money disappears, there won’t be any more missiles.
The relationship between Israel and the US is extremely tight – probably the closest relationship the US has with any country in the world. Don’t forget what Obama promised in his speech to 2,500 young Israelis at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem: “So long as there will be a United States, there will be a State of Israel.” I cannot recall a more dramatic commitment by the US toward any other country in the world. The US supports Israel on a variety of matters, and we can clearly see that Israel helps the US on many matters, too.
Israel has much to offer the US, and this is a very good thing. The two countries also share common values, which reinforces their common interests.
In the past, there have been times when the US and Israel did not see eye to eye on certain international or regional issues. And this is the way it should be. The trick is to locate our common interests on each issue, and to dialogue about these issues, far away from the public eye. There is no benefit in holding these disputes openly. The prime minister did the adult thing when he ordered Ya’alon to apologize to his American counterpart. It’s better to suffer a moment of discomfort than to cause a major disruption in diplomatic relations. Netanyahu surely remembers other periods when the US turned a cold shoulder to Israel.
Now that these nine months of negotiations are coming to an end – without an agreement having been reached – the US-Israel relationship is facing stormy weather. Israel is putting the blame on the Palestinians, but the Americans will have to decide who is to blame, and whether they should make an effort to push on for continued negotiations. Right now, this new disagreement is superfluous and harmful.
Right now would be the absolute worst time for Israel to alienate the US.
The author, a Labor MK and a former Israeli spokesman at the UN, currently serves as chairman of the Knesset lobby for US-Israel relations, and is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.