Iran’s Khamenei says hajj pilgrims must ‘expose Zionist plots’

Iranian supreme leader says combating Jewish ‘conspiracies’ is an ‘essential duty’ during pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, decries normalization deals with Israel

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks on the anniversary of the death of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shown in the poster at top center, at his mausoleum in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks on the anniversary of the death of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shown in the poster at top center, at his mausoleum in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that combating “Zionists’ plots” was a necessary part of the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca.

“Exposing the Zionists’ plots and conspiracies is one of the essential duties in hajj,” Khamenei told Iranian officials who organize the event, according to the Iranian Fars news agency. The report did not elaborate further.

Khamenei also decried the Abraham Accords, which in recent years normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states.

“The Arab and non-Arab governments that moved toward normalizing their relations with the Zionist regime, against the will of their nations and for the will of the United States, must know that these interactions will bring them nothing but exploitation at the hands of the Zionist regime,” he said, referring to Israel.

The accords normalized ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Their powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional adversary, was seen as giving approval for the process. All three Sunni-led states view the Shia Iran as a threat. Morocco and Sudan followed in normalizing ties with Israel, as Middle East attitudes toward the Jewish state underwent a shift.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, but covert ties have warmed in recent years, as the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has increasingly seen Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence in the region.

Recent reports have said Jerusalem and Riyadh are holding talks on economic ties and “security arrangements,” and US President Joe Biden is seeking to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia next month.

Saudi Arabia reopened its doors to hajj pilgrims earlier this month after the annual ritual was sharply restricted since the start of the pandemic. Hajj is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings; about 2.5 million people participated in 2019.

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they wear masks and keep social distancing, a day before the annual hajj pilgrimage, on July 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Khamenei extolled the resumed hajj on Wednesday on Twitter, before launched his tirade against Jews, Israel and Arab states that have relations with Jerusalem.

“Zionism is an obvious plague for the world of Islam. The Zionists have always been a plague, even before establishing the fraudulent Zionist regime,” Khamenei wrote. “Even then, Zionist capitalists were a plague for the whole world. Now they’re a plague especially for the world of Islam.”

“Muslim nations oppose the normalization of relations with the Zionists, clench their fists and shout slogans against states seeking normalization,” he said. “The Zionist regime exploits these states. They don’t realize it, but we hope they realize it before it’s too late.”

Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy for antisemitism, called Khamenei’s comments “unacceptable.”

“Let us make no mistake, the use of ‘Zionist’ here is nothing but a foil for ‘Jewish,’” she said. “This vile, antisemitic rhetoric is not only disturbing, but deeply problematic. No government should tolerate, let alone espouse, these hateful and dangerous views.”

The Iranian regime has been increasingly at odds with the West in recent weeks, as the 2015 nuclear deal continues to crumble. Negotiations in Vienna have stalled for months, largely over Iran’s demand that the US delist its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group, and the chances for a breakthrough are slim, diplomats have said.

On Wednesday, the UN nuclear watchdog formally censured Iran for not cooperating with its inspectors, hours after the regime said it disconnected some of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s cameras monitoring its nuclear sites.

The move by Iran’s atomic agency came in anticipation of ratification of the censure, drafted after the Vienna-based IAEA raised concerns about traces of enriched uranium previously found at three sites Tehran had not declared as having hosted nuclear activities.

The UN nuclear watchdog formally adopted the censure, the first to criticize Iran since June 2020, after it was submitted by Britain, France, Germany and the United States. The motion is largely symbolic and does not threaten any specific actions from world powers against Iran.

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