TEHRAN — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday called Israel a “cancerous tumor” established by Western countries to advance their interests in the Middle East.
Iran’s leaders frequently condemn Israel and predict its demise, but Rouhani, a relative moderate, rarely employs such rhetoric.
Addressing an annual Islamic Unity Conference on Saturday, Rouhani said “one of the negative results of World War II was the formation of a cancerous tumor in the region.”
He went on to refer to Israel as a “fake regime” set up by Western countries.
Iran supports terror groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas that are pledged to Israel’s destruction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long identified Iran as Israel’s greatest threat, pointing to its nuclear program, calls for Israel’s destruction and support of anti-Israel terrorist groups.
Speaking at the conference by video link from Gaza, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh castigated those nations who, he said, were seeking to broker improved relations for Israel with others in the region — an apparent reference to Gulf states that are warming their ties with the Jewish state. “There is no future for this enemy (Israel) on the land of Palestine,” said Haniyeh. “And there is no future for these efforts at normalization.”
Naim Qassem, the deputy leader of the Hezbollah terror group, urged a unified “resistance against Israel, and against concessions on the land of Palestine.”
The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, routinely calls Israel a “cancer” of the region that must be removed.
Rouhani on Saturday said the United States cultivates close ties with “regional Muslim nations” to protect Israel, an apparent reference to Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s Sunni Arab allies. He said bowing to American pressure amounts to “treason.”
He added, however, that Iran was prepared to defend Saudi Arabia from “terrorism and superpowers.”
“We do consider you as a brother,” he said. “We do consider the people of Mecca and Medina our brothers,” he added, referring to Islam’s two holiest cities, in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran nearly three years ago after Iranian protesters stormed its diplomatic posts in Iran in response to the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. The two countries support opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.