The Obama administration is seething at criticism from Israel’s defense minister who this week accused the U.S. of showing “weakness” around the world.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry protested Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s comments in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described Mr. Yaalon’s remarks as “not constructive” and said Mr. Kerry “has a tough skin … but did feel it was important to express his concern about the comments.”
She declined to characterize Mr. Netanyahu’s response to the call.
In a speech at Tel Aviv University on Monday, Mr. Yaalon accused Washington of showing weakness around the world.
In remarks reported by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, he cited “disappointment” with the U.S. among Sunni rebels battling to topple Bashar Assad’s government in Syria, and a similar sentiment in Singapore where he “heard disappointment about China getting stronger and the U.S. getting weaker.”
He also cited developments in Ukraine, where Russia has annexed the Crimean Peninsula despite Western warnings, and said the U.S. “is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately.”
Mr. Yaalon took a swipe at the Obama administration’s tendency to lead from behind on global challenges.
“If you sit and wait at home, the terrorism will come again,” Mr. Yaalon said. “Even if you hunker down, it will come. This is a war of civilizations. If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world. Nobody will replace the United States as global policeman. I hope the United States comes to its senses. If it doesn’t, it will challenge the world order, and the United States is the one that will suffer.”
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Yaalon’s comments did not reflect the views of the Israeli government.
“[A]nd I think it doesn’t reflect, naturally, our relationship,” she added.
Mr. Yaalon expressed similar frustration with the ongoing nuclear negotiations between the West and Iran, and said the U.S. had been outmaneuvered by the Iranians.
Israel, he said, cannot rely on the U.S. to confront Iran over its nuclear program.
“We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States,” said Mr. Yaalon. “But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better.”
Israel suspects Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at building a nuclear weapon. Iran denies this insisting it is intended for only for peaceful purposes.
“People know that Iran cheats,” Mr. Yaalon said. “But comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation. If possible, to next year, or the next president. But in the end, it will blow up.”
This was the second time that Mr. Yaalon, a former armed forces chief and a hawkish member of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, has publicly criticized the Obama administration.
In January, the defense minister accused Mr. Kerry of having a “messianic obsession” with the Middle East peace process.
Ms. Psaki said on Wednesday that the U.S. has an “unshakable commitment” to Israel’s security.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said that the breadth of our security cooperation is unprecedented,” she said. “So it is certainly confusing to us why Defense Minister Yaalon would continue his pattern of making comments that don’t accurately represent the scope of our close partnership.”