In Blistering Attack, U.S. Official Accuses Ya'alon of 'Undermining' Relations With Washington

Obama administration reacts to defense minister’s criticism of U.S. 'weakness', reported in Haaretz, with unprecedented personal rebuke that 'questions his commitment' to bilateral ties and U.S. security assistance.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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The Obama administration launched a blistering personal attack on Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Tuesday, accusing him of “undermining” the security ties between Israel and the United States. “We were shocked by Moshe Ya'alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States,” a senior administration official said.

The official’s sharp reaction, which appeared to be carefully worded, came in response to harsh criticism leveled by Ya'alon at the Obama administration in an address at Tel Aviv University, reported in Haaretz on Tuesday. Ya'alon said the United States “shows weakness” in various arenas around the world – including Ukraine – and that its allies in the Middle East are disappointed. Ya'alon said that because it is “sitting at home," America is opening itself up to terror attacks “and the United States will suffer.”

Ya'alon’s remarks sparked anger throughout official Washington, including the State Department and the White House. The irritation was compounded because of the previous incident in January, in which Ya'alon accused U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry of “messianic obsession” regarding the peace process. The frustration led to the publication – albeit on condition of anonymity - of one of the most harshly worded personal condemnations in the history of relations between the two countries.

“We were shocked by Moshe Ya'alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States,” the official said. “Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the defense minister disparages the U.S. administration, and insults its most senior officials. Given the unprecedented commitment that this administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the defense minister seems intent on undermining the relationship.”

A senior figure in the Jewish establishment, when apprised of the wording of the official’s statement, said last night that he could not recall such a “bitter outburst” against an Israeli minister in recent years. He said that statement was tantamount to “a vote of no confidence” in Ya'alon, and that the tension between the administration and the defense minister was bound to have an effect on ties between the two countries, “if not directly then indirectly.”

Another source who maintains regular contacts with administration officials said that in addition to the fact that Ya'alon is now viewed in Washington as a “serial insulter” who apparently fails to appreciate the extent of the American contribution to Israel’s security, two specific elements in the remarks reported by Haaretz probably enraged U.S. officials: Ya'alon’s characterization of Obama’s weakness in the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine, and his “threat” that terror would strike the United States at home.

“The Americans are well- acquainted with the political game in Israel and they can understand why Ya'alon might feel it necessary to position himself to the hawkish right of Netanyahu,” the source said. “What they can’t understand is his insistence on spitting into the well that nourishes the Israeli defense establishment that he is responsible for.” 

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walking with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon after he arrived on a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey at the Pentagon, June 14, 2013.Credit: AP