Israeli leader lashes back at harsh US criticism
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's prime minister said Wednesday that recent verbal attacks against him from the United States were merely because he was "defending Israel" and vowed to carry on with his policies despite the vitriolic rhetoric.
Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks to parliament followed a report in The Atlantic this week in which unidentified U.S. officials lambasted the Israeli premier for his settlement policies and for undermining American peace efforts. The officials derided Netanyahu as cowardly and recalcitrant, among other insults.
The report reverberated throughout Israel, with some coming to the prime minister's defense while others pointing to them as an indication of just how bad relations between the two close allies have gotten under Netanyahu's watch.
Netanyahu responded that those who attack him do so only because he defends Israel, and stressed that he was "not prepared to make concessions that will endanger our state."
"Our supreme interests, with security and the unity of Jerusalem first and foremost, are not among the top concerns of those anonymous elements that are attacking us and me personally," he said.
National Security Council Spokesman Alistair Baskey said the comments in The Atlantic do not reflect the views of the administration.
"We think such comments are inappropriate and counter-productive," he said, before adding. "Despite the extremely close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, we do not agree on every issue."
There have been growing concerns of a new crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations after U.S. officials said the Obama administration last week refused Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon's requests to meet several top national security aides. The rejection followed negative comments Yaalon made about Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Obama administration has long has a tense relationship with Netanyahu for his close relationship with the Republican Party and for what is often perceived as a lecturing tone toward the president. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has been suspicious of U.S. efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement over Iran's nuclear program that fails to remove the threat of it acquiring a bomb.
Even within Netanyahu's coalition there are those, like Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who have vocally expressed worry over the crisis with the United States and said it must be resolved before it endangers Israeli interests.
Among the greatest concerns are that the U.S. may withhold its vast military aid to Israel and stop protecting it from diplomatic attacks at the United Nations.
Economics Minister Naftali Bennett called on the U.S. to "distance itself from the rude remarks and reject them outright," adding that such abuse not only targeted the prime minister but all Israelis.
However, opposition leader Isaac Herzog placed the blame on Netanyahu, accusing him of playing "political games" with the American administration.
"Netanyahu acts like a political pyromaniac and has brought relations with the United States to an unprecedented nadir," he told Israel's Channel 2 online.
Associated Press Writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report from Washington.