Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached out to the Iranian people on Saturday evening, slamming the regime that he said oppresses them and vowing that aggression by Tehran would top his list of priorities during his first contacts with US President Donald Trump.
In a clip posted on Facebook minutes after Shabbat ended, the prime minister stresses that Israel does not consider the Iranian people to be the enemy, but only the regime that rules them. While stopping short of calling on the Iranians to revolt, he described a brutal dictatorship preventing them from living the Western lives they ostensibly seek.
“I plan to speak soon with President Trump about how to counter the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu says in the video, speaking in English with Persian subtitles.
“But it struck me recently that I’ve spoken a lot about the Iranian regime and not enough about the Iranian people, or for that matter, to the Iranian people. So I hope this message reaches every Iranian — young and old, religious and secular, man and woman.”
The Iranian people prefer to live without fear, enjoying Western freedom and liberties, the prime minister says. “I know you’d want to be able to speak freely, to love who you want without the fear of being tortured or hung from a crane.”
Iranians have a proud history and rich culture, he adds. “Tragically, you are shackled by a theocratic tyranny. In a free Iran you will once again be able to flourish without limit. But today, a cruel regime is trying to keep you down.”
Netanyahu goes on to describe how the “ruthless regime” continues to deny the Iranian people’s freedom “by disqualifying thousands as candidates in elections or by stealing money to support Syria’s President Assad.”
“By calling daily for Israel’s destruction, the regime hopes to instill hostility between us. This is wrong. We are your friend, not your enemy. We’ve always distinguished between the Iranian people and the Iranian regime,” he says.
“The regime is cruel – the people are not; the regime is aggressive – the people are warm. I yearn for the day when Israelis and Iranians can once again visit each other freely in Tehran and Esfahan, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
Israel and Iran enjoyed close ties before the 1979 revolution that saw the secular regime of the Shah swept from power by the Islamic fundamentalist regime that still rules the country today.
Israelis and Iranians “can work together for a more peaceful and hopeful future for both of us,” the prime minister concludes. “We must defeat terror and tyranny and we must ensure that freedom and friendship win the day.”
Reacting on Twitter to Netanyahu’s post, Education Minister Bennett said that Iran was an important subject, “but preventing another Iran in the heart of Judea and Samaria [West Bank] is no less important.”
The “pretext of the Iranian threat” must not be allowed to cause Israel to “miss a historic opportunity to prevent Palestine on Route 6,” Bennett said, referring to a toll road that runs almost the entire length of the country.
Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, was referring to Netanyahu’s stated support for a two-state solution. Bennett, on the other hand, vehemently rejects the idea of a Palestinian state anywhere in the West Bank, arguing that Trump’s ostensible pro-Israel policies will allow Israel to annex part of the area. Earlier on Saturday night, he hailed Trump’s presidency on Twitter as the dawn of a “new diplomatic era,” and vowed to push for a partial annexation of the West Bank.