Ya’alon and Netanyahu at a recent event commemorating the Yom Kippur War.
Moshe Ya’alon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Emil Salman
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Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon apologized late Tuesday for his outburst against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, which caused a serious diplomatic incident between the two countries.

In a statement issued just before midnight, Ya'alon apologized for "insulting" the secretary of state in calling him "obsessive and messianic."

"The defense minister did not intend to insult the secretary and he apologizes if the secretary was hurt by the remarks attributed to the defense minister," read a statement issued by Ya'alon's bureau. 

The apology was issued after two-hour meeting between Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the premier's residence in Jerusalem. The statement, which was composed together with Netanyahu, followed a lukewarm response from Ya'alon earlier in the day which was rejected by the Obama Administration.

Senior American officials said prior to the release of the statement that the United States was not satisfied with the Israeli government's response to Ya'alon's remarks and expected Netanyahu to issue a public condemnation.

"We expect the Prime Minister to put this right by publicly expressing his disagreement with the statements against Secretary Kerry, the negotiations with the Palestinians and Kerry's commitment to Israel's security," said a senior U.S. official.

Ya'alon's statements sparked serious tension between the two countries over the course of the day. State Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told Haaretz on Tuesday evening that Ya'alon's remarks, if accurate, were "offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the U.S. is doing to support Israel's security needs."

"Secretary Kerry and his team, including General John Allen, have been working day and night to try and promote a secure peace for Israel, because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future. To question Secretary Kerry's motives and distort his proposal is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally," Psaki said.

Ya'alon has recently made several strong statements, both on- and off-the-record, against the background of Kerry's attempts to advance a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth on Tuesday quoted Ya'alon's derisive "obsessive and messianic" remarks against the U.S. secretary of state, as well as a remark that he hoped Kerry would "get a Nobel Prize and leaves us alone."

Identical statements appeared in Israel Today newspaper last week, though circles close to the defense minister denied that he had made the remarks.

While reaffirming his commitment to working closely with Kerry on Tuesday, Ya'alon did not deny making the remarks. Circles close to him said that Shimon Shiffer, the Yediot Aharnot journalist who quoted the defense minister, had broken the rules of a background briefing.

The defense minister later continued his attack in an address to high school students in Ofakim: "They say time is working against us. We should not be alarmed by all kinds of fear mongering," he said. "We shouldn't get confused, get stressed or give up."

Netanyahu on Tuesday distanced himself from Ya'alon's remarks, but stopped short of condemning them.

"The U.S. is our largest partner and the partnership is founded on shared values and interests," Netanyahu said. "Even when there are disagreements between us, they are always substantive and not personal. We work in full cooperation with Vice-President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry to advanced peace and security in the region. We stand firm regarding our own interests, while promoting the important connection between our two countries."

The U.S. administration has been following the statements emanating from Israel for several weeks. The assumption in Washington is that certain elements in the Israeli government believe that Kerry is promoting the Israel-Palestine peace agreement as a personal project, without the support of President Barack Obama.

Hours before the meeting with Netanyahu, Ya'alon issued a statement of clarification saying "Relations between the U.S. and Israel are intimate and of great importance to Israel. The U.S. is our greatest friend and our most important ally. When there are disagreements we deal with them directly, including with Secretary Kerry, with whom I hold many conversations concerning Israel's future.