Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s claim that Israel is behind the antigovernment street protests in the country is “not only false, it’s laughable,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, breaking his silence on the developments in Iran since the protests began on Thursday.
Diplomatic officials said Netanyahu had kept silence on the protests because of a concern that whatever he would say would be manipulated by the regime in Tehran to the detriment of the protesters, but that he decided to speak out when Rouhani publicly blamed Israel.
Rouhani on Monday was quoted by state media as blaming the United States and Israel for the protests.
“Our success in the political arena against the United States and the Zionist regime was unbearable to [Iran’s enemies],” he said. “Iran’s success in the region was unbearable to them. Don’t you expect that they would seek revenge? Don’t you think they would provoke some people?”
The antigovernment demonstrations continued for a fifth day in Iran on Monday, after 13 people were killed during the biggest protests since the pro-reform unrest of 2009.
A protester shot and killed a policeman during demonstrations, police said on Monday, the first reported fatality among security forces struggling to contain unrest challenging the clerical leadership.
Video posted on social media showed crowds of people walking through the streets, with some chanting “Death to the dictator!”
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage. The Fars news agency reported on “scattered groups” of protesters in the capital of Tehran and said a ringleader was arrested.
The continuation of protests poses a challenge for clerical leaders as well as for Rouhani, who appeared on TV on Sunday to call for calm, saying Iranians had the right to criticize authorities but must not cause unrest.
“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public property, violate public order and create unrest in society,” he said. Hundreds of people have been arrested, according to officials and social-media sites.
Unsigned statements on social media urged Iranians to demonstrate again in Tehran and 50 other towns and cities.
State TV said armed demonstrators had tried and failed to seize police and military bases. The Intelligence Ministry said the “rioters and agitators of public unrest” had been arrested, ISNA news agency reported.
“Some armed protesters tried to take control of some police stations and military bases, but they met strong resistance from security forces,” state TV said. It gave no further details, and there was no independent confirmation.
State TV also said 10 people were killed in several cities on Sunday night and showed footage of damage to property. It did not elaborate.
Police in Tehran fired water cannons on Sunday to disperse demonstrators, according to pictures on social media.
Frustrations over economic hardships and alleged corruption erupted in Iran’s second city of Mashhad on Thursday and escalated into calls for the religious establishment, in power since the 1979 revolution, to step down.
Some of the anger was directed at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, breaking a taboo surrounding the man who has been supreme leader of Iran since 1989.
In the western city of Kermanshah, Iranians chanted “Death to Khamenei!” and “If you fight, we will fight!”
Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power. But frustrations have grown at home, where youth unemployment reached 28.8% last year, while the country is deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.
Those foreign interventions are resented by many Iranians who want their leaders to create jobs instead of engaging in costly proxy wars.
Two people were shot dead in the southwestern town of Izeh on Sunday, and several others were wounded, ILNA news agency quoted a member of parliament as saying. It was not clear if the two dead were among the 10 cited on state television.
“I do not know whether yesterday’s shooting was done by rally participants or the police, and this issue is being investigated,” Hedayatollah Khademi was quoted as saying.
Regional Governor Mostafa Samali told Fars News that just one person had been killed in an incident unrelated to the protests, and the suspected shooter had been arrested.
Demonstrations turned violent in Shahin Shahr in central Iran. Videos showed protesters attacking the police, turning over a car and setting it on fire. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage.
There were also reports of unrest in the western cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah, as well as Chabahar in the southeast and Ilam in the southwest.
The government said it would temporarily restrict access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram. There were also reports that mobile access to the Internet was being blocked in some areas.
The protests were the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed reelection of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iran’s adversaries voiced their support for the resurgence of antigovernment sentiment.
In Netanyahu’s video, which appeared on his Facebook page, and was also subtitled in Farsi and placed on his Farsi page, he slammed the Europeans for largely remaining silent in the wake of the protests.
“Sadly, many European governments watch in silence as heroic young Iranians are beaten in the streets,” he said. “That’s just not right. And I for one will not stay silent.”
While US President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for the protesters five times since the unrest began, similar sentiments have not been expressed by some top European diplomats.
Most glaring is the silence of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who has not tweeted at all about the protests, even though she often tweets in real time about events around the world. For instance, she tweeted against Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on the day before, the day of and the day after the president’s announcement.
And German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who retweeted his ministry’s statement against Trump’s Jerusalem decision a day after it was announced, has not reacted to the developments in Iran on his Twitter account.
In Netanyahu’s video, the fourth in which he addressed the Iranian people directly since his speech at the UN in September – in which he also turned to the Iranian people and spoke a few words in Farsi – the premier said the Iranian people “deserve better” than what they are getting from the current regime.
“Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets because they seek freedom, they seek justice, they seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades,” he said. “Iran’s cruel regime wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate. This money could have built schools and hospitals. No wonder mothers and fathers are marching in the streets. The regime is terrified of them – of their own people. That is why they jail students. That is why they ban social media.”
Netanyahu said he was confident that “fear will not triumph, because the Iranian people are smart, they are sophisticated. They are proud. Today they risk everything for freedom.”
Repeating a theme he has used in all of his videos regarding Iran, as well as in his speech at the UN, Netanyahu said: “This regime tries desperately to sow hate between us. But they won’t succeed. And when this regime finally falls, and one day it will, Iranians and Israelis will be great friends once again. I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom.”
Israel and Iran enjoyed a good relationship until the 1979 Islamic revolution in the country.
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