TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader threatened to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel dares to attack his country.
“Sometimes the leaders of the Zionist regime threaten us,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in speech broadcast live on TV Thursday — coinciding with President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and discussion in Jerusalem of ways to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. “They should know, said Khamenei, “that if they are attack us, we will turn Tel Aviv and Haifa into wastelands.”
Khamenei also said he was not opposed to direct talks with the US to resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West, but was not optimistic that such talks would yield results unless Washington stops imposing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei said the offer of direct bilateral talks with Iran is an American tactic to deceive the public and impose its will on Tehran.
Khamenei spoke to a crowd in northeastern Iran on the first day of the new Persian calendar year.
The US and its allies fear Iran could ultimately develop a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies.
Eager to reassure Israel, Obama on Wednesday promised to work closely with Israel and do whatever is necessary to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear arms, “the world’s worst weapons.” He also pledged to investigate whether chemical weapons were used this week in neighboring Syria’s two-year-old civil war.
Obama, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on his first visit to the Jewish state as president, said of Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “We prefer to resolve this diplomatically and there is still time to do so.” But he added that “all options are on the table” if diplomacy falls short.
“The question is, will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity,” he added, noting that Iran’s past behavior indicated that “we can’t even trust yet, much less verify.”
Netanyahu, at Obama’s side during the two leaders’ joint news conference Wednesday, said that while he appreciated US efforts to thwart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons through diplomacy and sanctions, those tools “must be augmented by a clear and credible threat of military action.”
“I am absolutely convinced that the president is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “I appreciate that. I appreciate the fact that the president has reaffirmed, more than any other president, Israel’s right and duty to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”