U.S. officials lined up Wednesday to disavow an explosive online report quoting an unidentified official in the Obama administration who described Israeli ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a coward.
“Certainly that's not the administration's view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counter-productive,” national security spokesman Alistair Baskey was quoted as saying, referring to report in The Atlantic magazine.
U.S. President Barack Obama has "forged an effective partnership" with Netanyahu and the two men consult each other regularly, he added.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice also waded in, saying: "The relationship is not in crisis."
"The relationship is actually fundamentally stronger in many respects than it's ever been," she told a Washington forum.
The Atlantic magazine quoted one U.S. official as saying that Netanyahu was a “chicken**** prime minister,” adding that he is more interested in political gain than peace.
The report said top-level officials were reportedly “red hot” with anger over Israel’s settlement policies in addition to the actions of the PM and his cabinet.
The comments were made to U.S. journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who warned that relations between the two long-time allies were in a “full-blown crisis.”
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars. The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states,” one official, reported to be a high-ranking member of the Obama administration, said.
Agitated by the remarks, Netanyahu insisted he was “under attack simply for defending Israel.”
“I am being attacked because I am willing to defend the State of Israel,” he claimed, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Netanyahu added that he “laud[ed] the deep connection we have with the United States.”
The White House distanced itself from the sharp criticism of Netanyahu after the unidentified administration official reportedly used an off-color term to describe him.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki agreed there were issues "where we express concern and there’s disagreement," but amid concerns that U.S.-Israeli ties are plunging to new lows, she insisted the U.S. relationship with Israel "remains strong."
"Our security bonds have never been greater and the ties between our nations are unshakeable," Psaki told reporters.
In recent days, U.S. officials have hit out at Israeli plans to build 1,000 new settlements in Arab east Jerusalem, calling such moves "incompatible" with Israel's stated goal of pursuing peace talks with the Palestinians.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's high-profile peace bid collapsed spectacularly earlier this year, in part after Israel unveiled more settlement plans only hours after he met Netanyahu.
The Atlantic reported U.S. frustration has boiled over to the point that it may consider withdrawing "diplomatic cover for Israel" at the United Nations.
Psaki would not be drawn on what may happen in future U.N. discussions.
But she conceded that Israel has repeatedly said "they'd like to see a two-state solution."
"Obviously actions, as I've said ... like the announcement of new settlements, are counterproductive to that -- or contradictory, I should say."