WASHINGTON – Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke on the phone with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel late Wednesday night and clarified he had no intention to harm US-Israel relations, after a comment he made caused a furor between the two allies.
Wednesday a US official told Israeli media that Ya'alon was "determined to undermine US-Israel relations," after the defense minister called the US "weak" on Iran, and questioned its commitment to Israel's security.
In response, sources close to the defense minister charged that some in the Obama administration were "trying to hurt (Ya'alon's) legitimacy and his great popularity," and State Department Spokeswomen Jen Psaki said Kerry spoke on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to protest Ya'alon's comments, which she described as "unconstructive" and "confusing."
During the conversation with Hagel Wednesday night, Ya'alon chose not to apologize, which some reports claimed the US had demanded, but rather to clarify the remarks which have topped headlines and generated copy.
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"My remarks had no defiance or criticism or intention to hurt the United States or its relations with Israel. The strategic relationship between the two countries is of utmost importance, as are the personal relations and common interests."
The defense minister said he personally appreciated all levels of the US-Israel relations and particularly the warm relationship between their respective security establishments.
Ya'alon told Hagel: "I have a deep appreciation for the relations between our countries and to you personally. I appreciated these relations as IDF Chief of Staff and I appreciate them today as defense minister, I recognize their depth and importance."
Ya'alon commitsThe Israeli defense chief emphasized to his counterpart that he was committed to maintaining the close relations between the two countries: "I am fully obligated to these relations and to the cooperation between Israel and the US."
Hagel thanked Ya'alon for the clarification, and told the under-fire defense minister he recognized that parts of his remarks may had been taken out of context.
Earlier, a sources close to Ya'alon said the defense minister was not someone who was willing to compromise on issues of security in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"The Americans are calling him a 'hard nut to crack' and an 'extremist,' but in actuality he is standing firm facing what he identifies as a danger to the state and the security of its citizens," a sources said.
Sources close to Ya'alon explained that he had been expressing his concern of American weakness in the world and particularly in the Middle East. They pointed to American policy about Iran and Syria, saying "the United States' confused policy weakens it in its activities in the region."
"Both American and Israeli officials are trying to hurt (Ya'alon). It is a fact his relations with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are great, and relations between the two (security) institutions are great," the source added.
Ya'alon has been vocally critical against the United States in recent months, saying US Secretary of State John Kerry was "acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor" during the latest round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and adding that Kerry should just "win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace."
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report.