Iranian FM derides Netanyahu speech as ‘cartoonish circus’

Mohammad Javad Zarif takes stage in Munich after PM brandishes part of downed drone, says stunt ‘doesn’t deserve the dignity of a response’

Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday derided Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for staging a “cartoonish circus” at the Munich Security Conference, after the Israeli leader in his address to the summit brandished a fragment of an Iranian drone shot down by Israel a week ago.

“You were the audience for a cartoonish circus just this morning which does not even deserve the dignity of a response,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said, as he took the stage shortly after Netanyahu’s fiery speech.

Zarif, in his speech, repeatedly called Netanyahu “obsessive” in his focus on the Iranian regime as a threat to Israel’s security, and branded his assertion that Tehran would “do nothing” if the US pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal as “delusional.”

“I can assure that if Iran’s interests are not secured, Iran will respond, will respond seriously and I believe it would be a response that means people would be sorry for taking the erroneous action they did,” said Zarif of the nuclear deal, adding that “we will not be the first ones to violate” the agreement.

Iran’s top diplomat also alleged that the recent escalation of tensions on Israel’s borders with Syria and Gaza were an attempt to divert public attention from Netanyahu’s woes at home, namely the corruption probes against him and the police recommendations that the prime minister be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves part of an Iranian drone downed in Israeli airspace, during a speech on the third day of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) held at the Bayerischer Hof hotel, in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2018. (Screen capture)

He denounced what he said were Israel’s “almost daily illegal incursions into Syrian airspace,” and said Israel was trying “to create these cartoonish images to blame others for its own strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they’re facing.”

“What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility [of Israel] has crumbled,” said Zarif, referring to the downing of an Israeli F-16 over northern Israel last Saturday, according to Reuters.

Netanyahu had singled out Zarif in his speech, as he lifted up the wreckage of the UAV.

“Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel’s resolve!” proclaimed Netanyahu earlier to the audience, which included Zarif.

The Iranian drone, which entered northern Israel from Syria near the Jordan border last Saturday, was shot down by an Israeli attack helicopter. In response to the drone incursion, Israeli jets attacked the mobile command center from which it was operated, the army said last week.

During the reprisal raid, one of the eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets that took part in the operation was apparently hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed. The Israeli Air Force then conducted a second round of airstrikes, destroying between a third and half of Syria’s air defenses, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

The flareup on the northern border marked the first direct confrontation between the Israeli air force and the Iranian regime on Israeli territory. Israel has warned of growing Iranian entrenchment in neighboring Syria and has said it will not abide an Iranian military presence on its borders.

“Through its proxies — Shiite militias in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza — Iran is devouring huge swaths of the Middle East,” said Netanyahu.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry attends a panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2018 in Munich, Germany. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS KIENZLE)

“Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” he added. “We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”

In his remarks on Sunday, the prime minister also railed against the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, lambasted the Iranian regime, and branded Zarif the “smooth-talking mouthpiece of Iran.”

“I’ll say this, he lies eloquently,” Netanyahu said. “Zarif said it was wrong to say Iran is radical. If that’s true, why do they hang gays from cranes in city squares?”

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also in the audience, criticized Netanyahu’s speech later on Sunday, saying he was “fundamentally incorrect” on the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

US President Donald Trump is deeply skeptical about the nuclear deal. He extended sanctions waivers in January but said he would not do so again when they come up for renewal in May unless his concerns are addressed.

Kerry, one of the leading negotiators on the deal, told the conference that “this is untenable. It is not good diplomacy.” He added that it is “absolutely critical” to make sure that the deal survives.

“I believe it is absolutely critical for Europe, for the world, to make sure we hold on to this agreement,” said Kerry. “Because to go backward — we know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement. It’s not a better place.”

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