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Yaalon calls Hagel, clarifies remarks seen as criticizing U.S.

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called his American counterpart Chuck Hagel to clarify remarks attributed to him that criticized the United States.

The call to Hagel, the U.S. secretary of defense, came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry complained directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Yaalon’s characterization of the U.S. foreign policy as “weak.”

Yaalon called Hagel late Wednesday night, according to a statement issued by the Israeli defense chief’s office, which called the conversation a “clarification.”

“My remarks had no defiance or criticism or intention to hurt the United States or its relations with Israel,” Yaalon told Hagel, according to the statement.

“The strategic relationship between the two countries is of utmost importance, as are the personal relations and common interests,” he said. “I value the relationship at all levels between Israel and the United States, in general and the security.”

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

A Pentagon statement said that Yaalon and Hagel “pledged to continue working closely with one another on the range of security issues facing the United States and Israel.” It also said that Yaalon updated Hagel “on Israel’s security situation” and on the situation on the border with Syria, which has seen a Syrian bombing in the Golan Heights that injured four Israeli soldiers, one seriously, and Israel’s retaliation. Hagel “expressed his sympathy for the wounded Israeli forces and their families, as well as his concern for the ongoing situation in Syria.”

In remarks reported by Haaretz, Yaalon said 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,” he said, according to reports. “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.”

He also called the United States weak on Iran and in hotspots around the world.

Kerry called Netanyahu to complain on Wednesday morning, Kerry’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters.

“Clearly his comments were not constructive,” she said. “Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, and he protested to him his concerns about these comments.”

She characterized Yaalon’s jibes as part of a pattern.

“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 on a range of security issues and on the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel,” she said.

In January, the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot quoted Yaalon as telling colleagues behind closed doors that Kerry was “messianic and obsessive” about the peace process, for which he later apologized.

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