Israeli Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon apologized late Tuesday night after having been quoted by a leading Israeli newspaper disparaging Secretary of State John Kerry as being “messianic” and obsessive.
“The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister,” the Israeli defense ministry said in a statement issued around midnight.
“Israel and the United States share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry. We appreciate Secretary Kerry’s many efforts towards that end,” the ministry added.
“Relations between the United States and Israel are intimate and important to us. The United States is our greatest friend and most important ally, and when there are disagreements we air them inside the [discussion] room, including with Secretary of State Kerry, with whom I have held many discussions about the future of Israel,” Ya’alon said earlier in the day, according to the Times of Israel.
The apology came after U.S. officials reportedly conveyed a message to the Israeli government that the Obama administration expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue a statement distancing himself from the defense minister’s comments, the Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media reported.
Yedioth Ahronoth, a leading Israeli daily, reported Tuesday that Ya’alon had dealt a scathing assessment of Kerry’s proposed plan for a peace framework between Israel and the Palestinians.
According to the front page report, Ya’alon had reportedly said to other officials, “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who came to us determined and acts out of incomprehensible obsession and a messianic sense, cannot teach me a thing about the conflict with the Palestinians.”
“The security plan the Americans presented us is not worth the paper it was written on. It has no security and it has no peace,” the defense minister reportedly said.
“The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace,” Ya’alon said.
Ya’alon had previously expressed skepticism publicly about proposals for security arrangements, especially those regarding defense of the eastern border with Jordan.
“Only a continued presence of ours in Judea and Samaria and along the Jordan River will guarantee that Ben-Gurion International Airport [outside Tel Aviv] and Netanya will not turn into targets and aims for attack by missiles [coming] from every direction,” he said according to the Hebrew paper.
After widespread coverage in the American and Israeli media summarizing Ya’alon’s reported comments, the State Department took the unusual move on Tuesday afternoon to directly criticize the defense minister.
“The remarks of the Defense Minister, if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Rome after Kerry visited the Vatican.
The Times of Israel reported that Psaki further said, “Secretary Kerry and his team, including General Allen, have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the Secretary’s deep concern for Israel’s future.”
“To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally,” the spokeswoman said.
Though the initial newspaper story was an unsourced summary of Ya’alon’s quotes in closed-door meetings, Ya’alon and his office have not denied he made the comments.
During a speech at the Knesset Tuesday, Netanyahu appeared to rebuke his defense minister over the undiplomatic remarks.
“Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they always pertain to the matter at hand, and are not personal,” Netanyahu said, emphasizing “our important ties to the United States.”