The Israeli defense minister’s efforts at smoothing over tensions with the Obama administration do not appear to be satisfying Washington, as reflected in days of criticism from the White House and the State Department, continuing through Monday.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon last week angered administration officials when he said that the U.S. was projecting “weakness” on issues including Iran, China and Ukraine, forcing Israel to conclude it may need to act alone to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Yaalon’s sharp criticism prompted phone calls and angry statements from Obama administration officials calling for an apology.
Despite a phone call from Yaalon to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last Wednesday clarifying his remarks and emphasizing that the minister values his relationship with the U.S., the State Department continued to suggest on Monday that the administration is still not appeased.
"We’re certainly disappointed that he didn’t apologize,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Monday. “His comments just don’t reflect the true nature of our relationship with Israel.”
Last Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration had “concerns” about what she called “the pattern of comments” from Yaalon.
White House press secretary Jay Carney last week called Yaalon's remarks "clearly not constructive" and said that the U.S. "maintains an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest his defense minister’s comments.
After making the initial comments, which were published Tuesday, Yaalon called U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday in what the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post each described as an apology.
Yaalon’s office released a statement describing the conversation in which Yaalon said his comments "were not intended to express opposition, criticism or offense to the United States," adding that he “greatly admired” the relationship and that maintaining strong ties with the United States is Israel's utmost priority, according to the Jerusalem Post.
“I have a total commitment to these relations and to the cooperation between Israel and the United States in every way,” Yaalon told Hagel.
Yaalon had been quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz blasting U.S. foreign policy as creating an image of “feebleness” and saying he hoped the U.S. would come “to its senses.”
“At some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them [the Iranians], and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better,” Yaalon was quoted as saying.
Yaalon prompted a row with the Obama administration in January when he was quoted in a Hebrew newspaper calling Kerry “messianic” and acting out of “incomprehensible obsession” over his single-minded pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace framework, comments for which he later apologized.