The United States on Monday joined the European Union in denouncing remarks by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who, on Saturday, called Israel a “cancerous tumor” established by Western countries to advance their interests in the Middle East.
“We condemn the outrageous comments by Iran’s Rouhani,” Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East peace process, said in a tweet.
“Rouhani continues to spread the Iranian regime’s hateful & destructive ideology instead of improving Iranian lives,” Greenblatt added.
Addressing an annual Islamic Unity Conference on Saturday, Rouhani said, “One of the ominous 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’s leaders frequently condemn Israel and predict its demise, but Rouhani, who is cast as a relative moderate, rarely employs such rhetoric.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded the same day, saying in a statement that “Israel knows very well how to defend itself from the murderous Iranian regime.”
“Rouhani’s slander, which calls for the destruction of Israel, proves yet again why the nations of the world need to join in the sanctions against the Iranian terrorist regime which threatens them,” charged the prime minister.
On Monday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lashed out at Israel and the US, saying, “to hell with the US and Zionist regime for threatening the Iranian nation.”
Today, to hell with the U.S. and Zionist regime for threatening the Iranian nation. Their threats and atrocities have so far failed and will continue to fail; the sanctions will also be defeated by the grace of resistance.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 26, 2018
A day earlier, Khamenei said Israel was now “weaker” than it was 10 or 20 years ago, listing a number of military “defeats” he said the Jewish state had suffered over the years.
In a tweet, Khamenei claimed that Israel was defeated by Hezbollah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and that it had been beaten by Hamas in 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, as well as the recent flareup in violence on the Gaza border.
All of those conflicts ended with both sides claiming victory.
The Zionist regime is clearly weaker than 10, 20 years ago. A few years ago they fought Hezbollah for 33 days and were defeated. They were defeated 2 years later in the 22-day war on Palestinian resistance; in 8-day war on oppressed people of Gaza and recently in the 2-day war.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 25, 2018
Khamenei routinely calls Israel a “cancer” in the region that must be removed. He has previously branded Israel as “barbaric,” “infanticidal,” and the “sinister, unclean rabid dog of the region.” Recently, he blamed “Zionists” for the anti-government demonstrations held across Iran earlier this year.
The European Union on Sunday slammed Rouhani’s “cancer” remark, with a spokesperson calling it “totally unacceptable” and “incompatible with the need to address international disputes through dialogue and international law.”
“The European Union reiterates its fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, including with regard to current and emerging threats in the region,” the 28-nation bloc said.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz similarly condemned Rouhani on Saturday, likening his comments to anti-Semitism.
“I strongly condemn the recent unacceptable statements by President Rouhani relating to Israel. It is absolutely unacceptable when Israel’s right to exist is questioned or Israel’s destruction is being urged,” he tweeted.
“Because of our historical responsibility, the decisive combat against all forms of anti-Semitism and the support for Israel are especially important to us. For Austria, Israel’s security is non-negotiable,” Kurz added.
The EU has trod cautiously on Iran as it seeks to save the beleaguered nuclear deal with Tehran, after the US withdrew from it earlier this year and reimposed sanctions.
Iran supports terror groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas that are pledged to Israel’s destruction.
Netanyahu has long identified Iran as Israel’s greatest threat, pointing to its nuclear program, calls for Israel’s destruction and support of terrorist groups.
Agencies contributed to this report.