As tensions rise, Zarif says he doesn’t believe Iran heading to war with Israel
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FM warns 'there'll be consequences' for Israel's violations

As tensions rise, Zarif says he doesn’t believe Iran heading to war with Israel

Iranian foreign minister blames Israel for escalation, saying Jerusalem repeatedly violated Syrian territory under ‘smokescreen’ of US support

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the Tehran Security Conference in Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2018. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the Tehran Security Conference in Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2018. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Despite rising tensions and mutual warnings traded between Tehran and Jerusalem in recent weeks, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview to be aired Sunday on American television that he did not believe the two countries were “headed towards regional war”

“I do not believe that we are headed towards regional war. But I do believe that unfortunately, Israel has continued its violations with international law, hoping to be able to do it with impunity because of the US support and trying to find smokescreens to hide behind,” Zarif told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“And I do not believe that the smokescreens work anymore,” he said, according to a transcript released ahead of the screening. But he stressed that Israel was escalating tensions “by violating Syrian airspace, by violating Syrian territory… on a routine basis.”

He was referring to an Israeli strike on the Tiyas airbase in Syria on February 10, after an Iranian operator working out of it flew an Iranian-made drone laden with explosives into Israeli territory.

A second alleged Israeli strike on the base, also known as T-4, on April 9, killed 14 people, including at least seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, of which one was the head of its drone program, Col. Mehdi Dehghan.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

Iran, Syria, Russia, and some US officials have all said explicitly that Israel was responsible for the strike. Israel has not commented.

Zarif pointed to Syria’s shooting down an Israeli jet after the February strike, saying that it put an end to Israel’s “invincibility myth in our region.”

“If they continue to violate territorial integrity of other states, there’ll be consequences. The easiest answer would be to stop — to stop these acts of aggression, to stop these incursions,” he said.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

Israel sees Iran, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, as its central enemy in the region. Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria, marking it as a “red line” that it will fight for militarily if necessary.

Zarif’s comments come after senior Iranian officials threatened Israel with annihilation over the weekend.

“When the arrogant powers create a sanctuary for the Zionist regime to continue survival, we shouldn’t allow one day to be added to the ominous and illegitimate life of this regime,” the commander of Iran’s army, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, said at a ceremony in Tehran on Saturday, according to the Fars news agency.

“The army will move hand in hand with the IRGC so that the arrogant system will collapse and the Zionist regime will be annihilated,” General Mousavi said, referring to the Revolutionary Guards.

Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, head of the Iranian Army. (Screen capture)

He predicted this would take place with in 25 years, a number frequently used by the Iranian leadership.

On Friday, the vice commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned Israel that its airbases are “within reach,” in remarks apparently reacting to Israel’s publication on Tuesday of a map showing five Tehran-controlled bases in Syria.

“Israel: Don’t trust in your airbases; they’re within reach,” Hossein Salami wrote on Twitter, also making similar comments in a fiery speech.

Israel, said Salami, was living “in the dragon’s mouth.” Both northern and western Israel were “in the range of our missiles,” he threatened in a speech given in Tehran.

“Wherever you are in the occupied land, you’ll be under fire from us, from east and west. You became arrogant. If there’s a war, the result will be your complete elimination,” he said.

“Your soldiers and civilians will flee, and you won’t survive. And you’ll have nowhere to run, except to fall into the sea.”

As Iran stepped up it threats against Israel, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Tehran on Friday not to even consider an attack on the Jewish state, which he said has never been better prepared to counter Iran.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman at a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in the Etzion settlement bloc meant to resettle the evacuees of Netiv Ha’avot outpost on March 27, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

“I would suggest to all those on our northern border to think again about what they are doing,” Liberman said.

“It’s seriously not worth it for you to test the IDF, nor the State of Israel,” said Liberman who was touring the Gaza border. “We are ready for every scenario. We are ready for a multi-front scenario and I don’t remember a time when we were so prepared and so ready, both the army and the people of Israel.”

Jerusalem

Zarif also said that plans by the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem were an insult to the entire Muslim world. “I believe the United States would be much better served if they followed a more, a wiser, more prudent policy outreach,” Zarif said.

US President Donald Trump in December bucked decades of US foreign policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and setting in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. The US has said the move would take place to coincide with Israel’s 70th birthday.

Zarif also accused the US government of arrogance and belligerence, saying that Washington needed “a change in attitude” before any meaningful negotiations could begin over several US citizens being held prisoner in Iran.

“It is important… for the (Trump) administration to show the ability to engage in a respectful dialogue,” Zarif said. “The United States needs to learn how to treat other sovereign nations, particularly sovereign nations who do not depend on the United States for continued existence.”

US President Donald Trump (r) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Zarif said his government was open to talks on a prisoner release — particularly on health or humanitarian grounds; one of the prisoners, Baquer Namazi, is 81 and in poor health. But he said the current American attitude makes such negotiations impossible.

“You do not engage in negotiations by exercising disrespect for a country, for its people, for its government,” he said. “Then you do not leave much room for a genuine dialogue.”

At least five Iranians, all dual-American citizens or green-card holders, have been sentenced to prison in Iran on espionage-related charges, as has Chinese-American Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang.

Trump has had an antagonistic relationship with Tehran since before his election. Trump campaigned partially on his strong opposition to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran signed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Most recently Trump has vowed to withdraw from the agreement by May 12 unless US, British, French and German negotiators can agree to fix what he sees as its serious flaws.

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