TEHRAN, Oct 26: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly called on Wednesday for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’ and lashed out at Muslim nations which recognize the Jewish state, setting off a storm of protests from Western capitals.
“The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world,” the president told a conference in Tehran entitled ‘The World without Zionism’.
“As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map,” said Mr Ahmadinejad, referring to a slogan which Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini used before his death in 1989.
The remarks triggered a swift response from Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who said Iran was a ‘clear and present danger’.
“We believe that Iran is trying to buy time ... so it can develop a nuclear bomb,” said Mr Shalom.
The White House said the call ‘underscores the concerns we have about Iran’s nuclear operations’, while the German foreign ministry said the comments were ‘completely unacceptable’.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s comments were the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official has openly called for Israel’s eradication, even though such slogans are still regularly used at pro-government rallies.
“The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of a war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land,” he thundered in a fiery speech. He described the Middle east conflict as a ‘historic war between the oppressor and the world of Islam’.
Addressing some 4,000 students, Mr Ahmadinejad also called for Palestinian unity, resistance and ‘the annihilation of the Zionist regime’.
His arrival at the conference drew chants of ‘Death to Israel’, but Mr Ahmadinejad quickly told students – all of whom wore black and were sporting green headbands — to shout the slogan louder.
“The Islamic ummah (nation) will not allow its historic enemy to live in its heartland,” said the president, an austere veteran of Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards, who swept to a shock victory in the June election.
“Anyone who signs a treaty which recognizes the entity of Israel means he has signed the surrender of the Muslim world,” Mr Ahmadinejad said, warning Muslim leaders who recognize Israel that they ‘face the wrath of their own people’.
“We should not settle for a piece of land,” he said of Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip.
President Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising tone represents a dramatic change from that of former president Mohammad Khatami, whose favoured topic was ‘dialogue among civilizations’ and who led an effort to improve Iran’s relations with the West.
“If these remarks were indeed made, we condemn them in the strongest terms,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.
As a key member of the European Union, France has been leading efforts to ‘engage’ Iran on issues such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, human rights and the Middle East peace process.
But Mr Ahmadinejad appeared to signal that the EU’s policy was effectively dead — asserting that he viewed relations in terms of a ‘historic war’ between Islam and the West.
“It dates back hundreds of years. Sometimes Islam has advanced. Sometimes nobody was winning. Unfortunately over the past 300 years, the world of Islam has been in retreat,” he lamented.
“One hundred years ago the last trench of Islam fell, when the oppressors went towards the creation the Zionist regime. They are using it as a fort to spread its aims in the heart of the Islamic world.”
The term ‘oppressor’ is used by the Iranian government to refer to the United States, and in the plural form generally also includes Britain and Israel.
Prizes were also on offer at the one-day event organized by the Islamic students’ association for the best anti-Zionist caricature and in a letter-writing competition also themed: ‘The world without Zionism’. —AFP