U.S. Seizes on Ya'alon Insult to Tone Down Israeli Criticism of Peace Efforts and Iran Policies

But the angry American reaction is also a reflection of pent-up frustration at the steady barrage of denigration by right-wing Israeli politicians who take the 'special relationship' for granted.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Right-wing Israeli politicians can be excused for believing that the Obama Administration suffers at times from the diplomatic equivalent of battered wife syndrome. The U.S. has enhanced and expanded its security cooperation with Israel in recent years, but is nonetheless subjected to a steady barrage of slights, aspersions and insults by the Israeli right, especially when American officials are engaged, as they are these days, in promoting a peace process with the Palestinians.

The Americans usually prefer to look the other way and turn the other cheek, but in rare and extraordinary circumstances, such as those that converged Tuesday on Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, they can also lose their cool. They have insisted on a clear cut condemnation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a straight out apology by Ya'alon himself, which was duly offered on Tuesday night.

After all, an Israeli defense minister who is the beneficiary of unprecedented U.S. military assistance vital to Israel’s security and well-being is supposed to be the last Israeli minister to badmouth an American secretary of state, especially one who is going all out to achieve the two-state solution that Israel ostensibly seeks. So when Ya'alon describes John Kerry as “obsessive and messianic”, and when he does so at such a critical juncture in Kerry’s peacemaking efforts, the conditions are set for the perfect storm that erupted yesterday in U.S.-Israeli relations.

Ya'alon’s remarks, reported by Yedioth Ahronoth and not denied, are the zenith of what seems to be a concerted campaign of off-the-record slaps in the face and not-for-attribution kicks in the teeth that unnamed Israeli sources have been waging against Kerry in recent weeks. Under the guise of disagreements over security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, opponents of the peace process have been trying to undermine Kerry’s hope to present a framework of principles for an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

In the wake of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s recent conversion from enfant terrible to responsible adult, Ya'alon has emerged as the standard bearer of Kerry’s critics on the right. By making a federal case out of Ya'alon’s remarks yesterday, the U.S. hopes not only to draw a line in the sand about what can and cannot be said within the framework of “legitimate disagreements between friends” but to also deter other senior Israeli officials from following in Ya'alon’s outspoken path.

The irony, of course, is that the expansive eulogies to Ariel Sharon in recent days should have served as a warning sign to Ya'alon. As defense minister, Ya'alon can ill afford to be declared persona non grata as Sharon was in 1991, when James Baker decided that it was the then Construction Minister who had crossed the line in his attacks on American peacemaking.

The Americans may also be sending a shot across the Israel’s bow in another area altogether – the battle over the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the additional sanctions bill that is now before the U.S. Senate. By slapping down Ya'alon hard now, the U.S. may be warning Israel not to go too far in urging U.S. lawmakers to approve legislation that the Administration so adamantly opposes.

In recent years, the Obama Administration has learned to live with right wing Israeli politicians, including senior members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition, who either take the “special relationship” between the two countries for granted, or presume that the Republican Party together with the pro-Israel lobby will clean up their mess, or are simply and insanely willing to sacrifice the special ties on the altar of more and more Jewish settlements. The Americans have also learned to absorb countless allegations and insinuations against President Obama and his plot to do harm to the Jewish state.

Ya'alon just happened to say the wrong thing, at the wrong time, about the wrong person. He is now channeling all the pent up frustration and anger that U.S. officials have amassed in many long months of control and restraint. Under the circumstances, Prime Minister Netanyahu may be left with no choice but to rap his defense minister’s knuckles and to declare time out before allowing his ministers to once again lash out at America in the manner they’re used to.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon irked the U.S. by calling Secretary of State John Kerry 'messianic'.Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has irked the United States with his critique of Secretary of State John Kerry.Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz

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