Bibi Netanyahu
US President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to comments by a US official that he is a "chickens**t prime minister" by saying that he is under attack because he is "defending the State of Israel".

Netanyahu countered the remarks from "anonymous" critics in a speech at the Knesset in which he outlined the pressures facing Israel but also said that he "cherished" the US-Israel relationship despite it reaching new lows after the seven-week Gaza war.

"When there are pressures on Israel to concede its security, the easiest thing to do is to concede," he said. "You get a round of applause, ceremonies on grassy knolls, and then come the missiles and the tunnels."

"I am not prepared to make concessions that will endanger our state. Understand, our national interests, topped by security and the unity of Jerusalem, are not what top the interests of those anonymous forces attacking us, and me personally.

"I am under attack simply because I am defending the State of Israel. If I didn't stand firm on our national interests, I would not be under attack," he added.

"I respect and cherish the deep connection with the United States. Since the establishment of the state, we've had our arguments and then some.

"We have seen time after time, year and year, support rising among the American public. The strategic alliance between the stances is continuing and will continue."

The Israeli leader's coalition partner Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, reacted strongly to the US official's comments and called on Barack Obama's administration to condemn the remarks.

"The Prime Minister of Israel is not a private person. He is the leader of the Jewish State and the entire Jewish people. Cursing the prime minister and calling him names is an insult not just to him but to the millions of Israeli citizens and Jews across the globe," he said.

"If what appears in the press is true, then it seems that the current US administration is throwing Israel under the bus.

"I call on the US administration to immediately reject these gross comments."

The official, whose comments were quoted in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, also said that Netanyahu was a "coward".

"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," the official said.

"The only thing he's interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He's not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he's not [Ariel] Sharon, he's certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He's got no guts."