John Kerry, the United States secretary of state, was heard on an open microphone Sunday morning criticizing the Israel invasion of Gaza, a position that appeared to contradict the official U.S. stance in support of Israel.
The candid and diplomatically awkward moment came as Kerry prepared for a remote interview with Fox News, one in a rapid-fire series of interviews Kerry gave on U.S. political talk shows Sunday morning — and the slip led to a grilling by Fox News host Chris Wallace.
When he was on the air, Kerry reverted to the official U.S. stance, supporting the Israel right of self-defense. Kerry unblinkingly dismissed Wallace’s pointed questions about the off-air remarks as a normal human response to a “tough” war.
The remarks came in what Kerry thought was a private cell phone conversation with someone Fox News identified only as a “top aide” to Kerry. But not only did Fox News record the remarks, the network played them back on the air for Kerry himself to hear.
“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation — hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry is clearly heard to say on the recording. The remark appeared to be a sarcastic reference to Israel’s Gaza invasion, which Israel has said is targeted at eliminating Hamas-constructed infiltration tunnels, and rocket launchers used by the militant group to fire missiles at civilian targets inside Israel.
“We’ve got to get over there,” the secretary of state goes on, apparently meaning that he, Kerry, should travel to the Middle East to conduct immediate talks to end the conflict. “We ought to go tonight. I think it’s crazy to be sitting around.”
On the air, Wallace described the Kerry remarks as “an “extraordinary moment of diplomacy.”
He then quizzed Kerry about his true feelings regarding the Israel Gaza invasion.
“When you said, ‘it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,’ are you upset that the Israelis are going too far?” Wallace asked. “And in fact do you intend to go back to the Middle East tonight?”
But Kerry waved off the remarks.
“It’s very difficult in these situations,” he said, “We support Israel’s right to defend itself against rockets that are continuing to come in.”
Kerry added that his comments were simply a response to the civilian deaths incurred in the invasion.
“I reacted, obviously, in a way that anybody does with respect to young children and civilians, but war is tough,” Kerry said.
Kerry ended the exchange with a call for Hamas to accept a cease-fire agreement. View the exchange between Chris Wallace and John Kerry in the video clip below.