Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the international community to sanction Iran after its president Hassan Rouhani said that Israel was a cancerous growth in the Middle East.
“Israel knows very well how to defend itself from the murderous Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said on Saturday night. “Rouhani’s slander, which calls for the destruction of Israel, proves yet again why the nations of the world need to join in the sanctions against the Iranian terrorist regime which threatens them.”
Netanyahu spoke in response to a speech filled with inflammatory rhetoric
that Rouhani delivered in Tehran against both the United States and Israel.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also condemned Rouhani’s statement, tweeting that it was unacceptable to Iran to call into question Israel’s right to exist or to call for the country’s destruction. Support for Israel is particularly important, given his country’s historic responsibility to fight antisemitism, Kurz wrote.
One of the “most important effects of World War II was the formation of a cancerous tumor [Israel] in the region,” Rouhani said, according to English quotes from his speech published by the Iranian Mehr News Agency.
“They deployed a power in the region that completely obeys the West in regional matters,” he said, adding that “they formed the fake Israeli regime and killed and displaced the historical nation of Palestine.”
The US relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem is a statement of its increasing “hostility towards the world of Islam,” Rouhani said.
Rouhani called on the Islamic nations to create a joint force against Israel and the United States: “We will win against Zionism and the US if we become united.”
“We have a choice to either roll out red carpets for criminals or to forcefully stand against injustice and remain faithful to our Prophet, our Koran and our Islam,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states which have close ties to Washington.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional rivals and have supported opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen, as well as different political factions in Iraq and Lebanon.
Rouhani also took issue with the statements by US President Donald Trump, in which Trump explained that oil prices and the need to protect Israel were some of the reasons the US was maintaining ties with Saudi Arabia.
“The fact is that Saudi Arabia is tremendously helpful in the Middle East. If we didn’t have Saudi Arabia, we wouldn’t have a big base,” Trump said in a Thanksgiving teleconference from Florida on Thursday.
“Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia?” Trump asked rhetorically. “So what does that mean? Israel is going to leave? We want Israel to leave?”
“We have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia,” said Trump, explaining that their military purchases in the United States have created a large number of jobs. “And very importantly, they keep the oil price down. If you want to see a global depression, all you have to do is lift the oil price $50 a barrel, which could happen very quickly, once we lose that relationship.”
Rouhani on Friday cast doubt on the strength of the relationship, stating that, “If the United States is honest in saying that they have confidence in some countries in the region, why do they say that the reason for protecting them is Israel’s survival and security?”
Iran is capable of defending Saudi Arabia, Rouhani explained.
“We are ready to defend the interests of the Saudi people against terrorism, aggression and the superpowers... and we don’t ask for $450 billion to do it,” Rouhani said, referring to Saudi Arabia’s contracts with the United States. “Submitting to the West, headed by America, would be treason against our religion... and against the future generations of this region.”
Rouhani spoke at the start of the 32nd International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran, during which his speech was broadcast on state television.
Washington in May reimposed sanctions on Tehran, after Trump pulled out of a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. The deal involved the six world powers lifting economic sanctions against Iran. The other five signatories to the deal – Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – have remained committed to the agreement.
On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country remained committed to the deal and accused the US of trying to undermine global world order. He spoke at the fourth Mediterranean Dialogues in Rome.
“We negotiated a very good deal,” Zarif said, adding that during the more than two years it took to come an agreement, he spent more time with negotiators than with his wife.
Zarif appeared to dismiss the possibility of negotiating a new Iran deal with the US.
“If Iran would make an agreement with the US, what is the guarantee that it would last? How are we to be confident that the signature will stay on the paper?” he asked.
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, who spoke separately at the conference, warned about the danger Iran posed to the region and the world.
The Iranian regime’s “ultimate goal is to spread an ideology of intolerance, hatred and antisemitism throughout the Middle East and throughout the entire world,” Edelstein said.
“As the son of two Holocaust survivors, when people threatened to kill me time after time, I tend to believe them,” Edelstein said.
Israel and Iran do not share a border, but Iran is working to establish bases on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, Edelstein said.
“We will do what it takes to defend ourselves,” he said.
According to his spokesperson, Zarif left the hotel where the conference was held when Edelstein arrived.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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