U.S. Publicly Humiliates Israeli Defense Minister as Visit Ends

Ya'alon declares crisis between him and Obama administration over, only to find out that it revealed he was denied audience with top officials.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) greets the Minister of Defense of Israel, Moshe Ya'alon
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) greets the Minister of Defense of Israel, Moshe Ya'alon October 21, 2014, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, shortly before the two met privately. AFP

The White House refused to give Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon an audience with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice during his trip to the United States this week, senior American officials confirmed Friday. The reason for the cold shoulder was a number of statements Ya'alon made six months ago, in which he criticized the Obama administration and Kerry in particular.

"Given some of his comments in the recent past, it should come as no surprise that he was denied some meetings," a senior U.S. official told Haaretz. During his visit, Ya'alon met with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. A senior American official told the Associated Press that the White House wanted to instruct Power to decline meeting with Ya'alon but that they had only learned of the meeting after she had consented.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Department of State Spokeswoman Jen Psaki didn't deny these reports in their daily press briefing Friday. Instead they merely answered laconically that Ya'alon's meeting with his counterpart Hagel was "a natural, standard procedure."

Despite the fact that Ya'alon's requests to meet with the senior members of the Obama administration were declined over a week ago, Washington waited until the visit ended before making the story public in order to humiliate the Israeli defense minister. Senior U.S. officials leaked the story to the Israeli news website Ynet, which was first to break the story, then to the AP news agency, and after that to the rest of the press. The first reports came out just after Ya'alon returned to Israel Friday afternoon.

During his visit to the U.S., Ya'alon tried to clear the air between him and the administration. Just before he left and following Economy Minister Naftali Bennett's statements attacking John Kerry, Ya'alon issued a statement in which he praised U.S. support of Israel. During his visit to the American capital Ya'alon gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he claimed that the crisis between him and Kerry was over. "We overcame that," he said.

Ya'alon was surprised to learn that U.S. officials leaked reports of their denying him an audience with senior officials, but he has no intention of starting another public quarrel with the Obama administration. The Office of the Defense Minister declined to officially respond to the incident, though people close to Ya'alon said that the minister mainly went to the U.S. to meet with Hagel and senior members of the American defense establishment.

The bad blood between Ya'alon and senior members in the Obama administration are a result of a series of statements the minister made in the beginning of the year. In January Ya'alon was quoted in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth as accusing Kerry of being "obsessive and messianic" in regard to his attempts to promote the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Ya'alon issued an apology for his attack on the secretary of state, drafted together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he stated that "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's end." The statement was issued after a weak statement made by Ya'alon was rejected outright by the U.S. government as being inadequate.

Despite this apology, in March the tensions between the American administration and Ya'alon rose once more after Haaretz reported on statement the defense mister made in a closed conference in which he criticized American foreign policy. Ya'alon condemned the way the U.S. was dealing with Iran in harsh terms, going as far as implying that President Barack Obama was avoiding taking action, preferring instead to leave the matter to his replacement. "People know Iran cheats," he said, “But comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation. If possible, to next year, or the next president. But in the end, it will blow up.”

At the same conference Ya'alon said that if the administration continues to show weakness on the international stage, American national security would suffer a great blow. “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 Saturday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid commented on what he termed a crisis in relations between Israel and the U.S. "These are vitally important relations for Israel, and we must do everything we can to solve the crisis and resume good relations," Lapid said in an event in Tel Aviv.

"Sometimes you need to know how to say thank you, and we should treat the relations between Israel and the U.S. with responsibility and respect."