The Obama administration this week refused the Israel defense minister’s requests to meet several top national security aides, still miffed over negative comments he made about Secretary of State John Kerry’s Mideast peace efforts and nuclear negotiations with Iran, U.S. officials said Friday.
While Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon did see Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, the officials said the White House and State Department rejected Israeli proposals for meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, national security adviser Susan Rice and Kerry on his five-day trip to the United States. The administration had sought to stop Yaalon from seeing Power but the objections were made too late to cancel the meeting, according to the officials.
Yaalon met with Hagel at the Pentagon on Tuesday. Kerry himself was out of the country until late Wednesday, but the officials said pointedly that a meeting with the secretary of state could have been arranged before Yaalon departs the U.S.
The White House and State Department declined to comment on internal deliberations about whom Yaalon should see.
“I can’t speak to any meetings that didn’t occur,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted that Yaalon’s meeting with his counterpart Hagel was “a natural, standard procedure.”
However, Israeli defense ministers, including Yaalon’s immediate predecessor Ehud Barak, have in the past been granted meetings with senior U.S. officials other than their direct counterparts.
Earlier this year, Yaalon infuriated officials in Washington with comments accusing the administration of being weak on Iran and questioning the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. That followed reports that Yaalon had criticized Kerry for being unrealistic and naive in trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
The reports of U.S. antipathy toward Yaalon prompted comment in Israel. Finance Minister Yair Lapid said it reflects a “crisis” in the country’s relations with the United States that must be fixed.
“If we were not in a crisis, I have no doubt that Israel would have participated in the regional conference in Egypt and there is great significance to this,” he said.
However, others believe that the saga of tensions with Washington is exaggerated.
Amos Gilad, Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs, told Israel Radio that despite problems at the top, the alliance runs smoothly “down below.”
“A meeting between defense ministers and vice-presidents is the top of the pyramid,” he said. “But there is an active and strong infrastructure down below. There are very strong ties between the IDF and the U.S. Army, which is a strong peg in the array of defense of Israel.”