U.S.-Israel tension, minister scorns Kerry then apologizes

Yaalon called him 'obsessive'. White House 'shocked'

15 January, 11:24

    Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon

    (by Aldo Baquis) (ANSAmed) - TEL AVIV - An attack on Obama's secretary of state and the White House's 'shocked' reaction which demanded an immediate about-face prompted on Tuesday night an apology. Sparks between Israel and its key US ally were caused by Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon who accused John Kerry, engaged in the difficult attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, of being an "obsessive" mediator.

    Everything started when best-selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot published a two-page article with the statements made by ex-general Yaalon, a government 'hawk' and leading member of Premier Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud party. The words were pronounced privately but leaked by the paper and described Kerry as acting out of an 'incomprehensible obsession' and a 'messianic compulsion'. Yaloon reportedly added he hoped Kerry would 'take the Nobel prize and leave us in peace', talking about Barack Obama's secretary of state as if he were an underling and slamming a regional security plan just presented by the US on the negotiating table as a project 'not worth the piece of paper on which it has been written'.

    The statements sparked a sharp reaction from Washington. In an attempt to stem the scandal, top Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and Premier Netanyahu tried to play down the statements assuring that bilateral relations remain close and that differences concern issues and are never personal.

    Livni, centrist member of a government dominated by the right, also openly criticized Yaalon. But the interventions were not enough to placate the State Department. Kerry's entourage reacted with anger from Rome on the sidelines of a visit of the secretary of state to Pope Francis.

    Yaalon's words, if confirmed, are 'offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel's security needs', a spokeswoman said.

    The White House on Tuesday night slammed the statements as shocking and out of place. And according to a source with the US administration, a message was sent to Jerusalem to ask Netanyahu to openly censor his minister, who is in charge of the Israeli ministry which relies more on US aid. Just an hour later, Yaalon apologized.

    A statement issued in Hebrew and English said 'the minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by the remarks attributed to the minister'.

    The statement then assured that 'Israel and the US share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Kerry', expressing appreciation for efforts made in this direction by the secretary of state.

    On Tuesday US Vice President Joe Biden, who was in Israel to attend ex-Premier Ariel Sharon's funeral, stressed the Obama administration's support of Kerry's diplomatic initiative (and pressures) in the Middle East. Earlier on Tuesday Yaalon's office had not retracted the statements published by Yediot Ahronot. And in a number of 'reserved' conversations with Israeli journalists the minister had also said that Palestinian National Authority President Abu Mazen stands on Israeli swords. If Israel were to leave the Territories, as hoped by the US, 'the West Bank would turn into Hamastan' he said - a copy of the tumultuous Gaza Strip ruled by the Islamic faction which has rebelled from the PNA according to the minister.(ANSAmed).

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