Yaalon clarifies remarks seen as criticizing U.S. in talk with Hagel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon clarified remarks attributed to him that criticized the United States in a phone call with his American counterpoint.

Yaalon called U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel late Wednesday night, according to a statement issued by his office. The conversation is being characterized as a clarification not an apology.

“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. I value the relationship at all levels, between Israel and the United States in general and the security,” Yaalon told Hagel according to the statement,

Hagel reportedly thanked Yaalon for his clarification and said he realized that some of the remarks made Monday in a speech that was closed to the media but immediately leaked may have been taken out of context.

In statements reported by Haaretz, Yaalon said Monday during a speech at Tel Aviv University that he supports unilateral Israeli action against Iran and that the United States is weak, which prompted condemnation from the Obama administration.

“We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States. 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. Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves,” Yaalon reportedly said. He also called the United States weak on Iran and in hot spots around the world.

In response, a senior administration official told Israeli media, “We were shocked by Moshe Yaalon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States. Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the defense minister disparages the U.S. administration and insults its most senior officials.

In January, the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot quoted Yaalon as telling colleagues behind closed doors that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was “messianic and obsessive,” for which he later apologized.

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