How Israel's Defense Minister Shot Himself in the Foot

Moshe Ya'alon's attack on Kerry is an attack on Obama too.

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It is still difficult to assess the damage caused by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s disgraceful, mocking and arrogant comments about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Ya’alon was considered one of the responsible adults in the cabinet in the previous government. But since he became defense minister he has begun to rival Avigdor Lieberman in what was the foreign minister’s role in the previous cabinet - that of the volatile minister who is boycotted in Washington.

Lieberman has learned his lesson. He understood that his crude style toward the Americans hurt him. He was forced to play in the minor leagues of international diplomacy and travel the road between Minsk, Tbilisi and Belgrade. He understood that in order to play in the big leagues you need to be able to open doors in Washington, so he made an effort to build good relations with Kerry despite their disagreements. It’s not surprising that it was Lieberman who played the role of responsible adult, attacking Ya’alon for his remarks.

Ya’alon’s bureau initially tried Tuesday to describe the report in Yedioth Aharonoth as a mistake that was the result of a violation of professional ethics by the journalist. Even if that is true, then Ya’alon still only has himself to blame for it.

For weeks he has been conducting a campaign with journalists and politicians against Kerry’s attempts to advance the peace process. It was only a matter of time until what he said leaked.

Ya’alon seems to have forgotten that Kerry is not a freelancer. The man he described as messianic and obsessive works for an American president who has given him full support. The attack on Kerry is an attack on Barack Obama as well.

Ya’alon also forgot that a large part of the excessive defense budget he is responsible for comes from America. It is Kerry who signs the checks, the very same person who Ya’alon thinks is interested in a Nobel Prize at the expense of Israel’s security. Ya’alon should remember that before he runs off to Washington to ask for more fighter planes.

The problem with Ya’alon’s comments is not just style, but also in their substance. It is legitimate for Ya’alon to think Kerry’s plans are void of content, but much of the defense establishment disagrees with him.

Even after his apology, Ya’alon still has to find a way to rehabilitate his relations with Washington. Otherwise he will see the inside of the White House and Pentagon only in photographs. The damage will be not only to him personally, but also to Israeli security.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.Credit: Bloomberg

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