Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back at Iran on Monday after its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, claimed the Israeli leader had threatened to destroy his country and warned that the Islamic Republic would respond to such threats.
“Zarif is once again lying,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Iran is the one openly threatening destruction. The regime’s officials threaten the destruction of Israel on a daily basis.”
He said Iran was “attempting to establish itself militarily in Syria, and just today it was publicized that it is accelerating its nuclear program.
“I’ll say it again: We won’t allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons that will endanger us and the entire world,” he said.
At a press conference in Tehran alongside visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Zarif had said “Netanyahu stands next to the Dimona [reactor], a nuclear weapons site, and says Iran should be destroyed…Of course, no one can act against our people without receiving a decisive response.”
Israel has long maintained an official position of ambiguity with regards to its nuclear capabilities.
According to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which provided an English translation of his remarks, Zarif was referring to comments Netanyahu made in August 2018 during a visit to Israel’s secretive nuclear site in Dimona.
At the time Netanyahu warned that those who seek to destroy Israel put themselves in danger of suffering the same fate instead.
The Iranian regime routinely threatens and anticipates the destruction of Israel, and funds and arms anti-Israel terrorist groups in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, frequently refers to Israel as a cancer that must be eradicated, and has set out detailed plans for its elimination.
Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking a nuclear arsenal in order to destroy it, and Netanyahu has led international opposition to the 2015 P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.
“Iran has never waged a war against any country and will not do so in future,” Zarif said Monday, but warned that “if any country starts a war on Iran, it would definitely not be the one that ends it.”
Though Zarif made a point to shake Maas’s hands in front of the cameras, his comments marked a sharp departure for the US-educated diplomat who helped secure the nuclear deal. They came after Maas spoke in support of Israel.
“Israel’s right to exist is part of Germany’s founding principle and is completely non-negotiable,” Maas said. “It is a result of our history and it’s irrevocable and doesn’t just change because I am currently in Tehran.”
Zarif then grew visibly angry, offering a list of Mideast problems ranging from al-Qaeda to the bombing of Yemeni civilians he blamed on the US and its allies, including Saudi Arabia.
“If one seeks to talk about instability in this region, those are the other parties who should be held responsible,” Zarif said.
He also offered a series of threats over the ongoing tensions gripping the Persian Gulf. The crisis, he said, stems from US President Donald Trump’s decision over a year ago to withdraw America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran announced May 8 that it no longer considered itself bound to keep to the limits of stocks of heavy water and enriched uranium that it agreed to as part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Tehran’s move came a year after Trump pulled out of the deal. Washington has also reinforced economic sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Meanwhile, in a report Monday, the UN’s nuclear watchdog did not explicitly say Iran was implementing its nuclear-related commitments, for the first time since the signing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and said that its rate of uranium enrichment was increasing.
Speaking to journalists after his speech opening the agency’s quarterly board of governors meeting, Amano said the accord was “under tension” and confirmed that Iran’s “production rate (of uranium) is increasing,” although he could not give an exact figure.