Israel offered sympathy but no immediate assistance to Iran and Iraq to help the countries deal with the aftermath of a destructive earthquake Sunday.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said Monday he was unaware of any aid offered to the two countries, neither of which have diplomatic ties with Israel. In fact, Israel considers both Iran, which avowedly seeks Israel’s demise, and Iraq to be “enemy states” and prohibits citizens from traveling there.
“The Home Front Command has not organized a delegation [for Iran and Iraq],” an army spokesperson said.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.
Israeli officials were hesitant to discuss the matter in any depth, refusing to say why no assistance was offered or if the Jewish state would consider sending aid if asked to do so.
In 2003, after an earthquake in the southeastern Iranian city of Bam killed more than 26,000 people, unofficial Israeli sources considered offering aid to the Islamic Republic.
But Tehran’s Interior Ministry said Iran would accept help from all countries except one: Israel. “The Islamic Republic of Iran accepts all kinds of humanitarian aid from all countries and international organizations with the exception of the Zionist regime,” a spokesman said at the time.
Iran’s then-interior minister, Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, reportedly said Iran would have accepted aid from the US because it considered Washington’s regime “legitimate.” Any support from Israel would be rejected because Tehran opposes Israel “for its actions against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” Israel “is a force of occupation,” he was quoted as saying.
Nine years later, when two quakes hit the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, killing more than 300 people and injuring 3,000, Israel did not offer assistance.
“We offered Iran assistance after earthquakes in the past, but they refused. So this time, we didn’t even bother to ask if they’re interested,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Times of Israel at the time. “Their refusal was pretty impolite, but we’re not making a big fuss about it.”
Sunday’s magnitude 7.3 quake killed at least 407 people in Iran and eight people in Iraq, and injured thousands across the region.
Iran’s western Kermanshah province bore the brunt of the temblor.
The area is a rural, mountainous region where residents rely mainly on farming to make a living.
It was centered 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja — in the country’s — semiautonomous Kurdish region according to the most recent measurements from the US Geological Survey, with tremors felt as far away as Tel Aviv.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz offered his sympathy to the countries. “My condolences to the people of Iran and Iraq over the loss of human life caused by the earthquake,” he said in a statement.
Israel has in the past eagerly offered assistance in what has been termed “disaster diplomacy,” a humanitarian effort also understood to aim at improving the government’s standing in the world.
In November 2016, the United Nation’s World Health Organization recognized the Israeli army’s field hospital, which is regularly sent abroad to provide aid at natural disaster sites, as “the number one in the world,” classifying it as its first and only “Type 3” field hospital.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.