Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations in his recent speech to the U.S. Congress that Iran wants to destroy Israel.
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In an interview with NBC, Zarif said that “Iran saved the Jews three times in its history,” insinuating that Netanyahu should brush up on his history lessons.
Zarif said Netanyahu distorts both the current reality and the writings in Jewish sources and the Bible.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Netanyahu now totally distorts realities of today,” Zarif said. “He even distorts his own scripture. If you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews.
“It is truly, truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved Jews three times in its history: once during that time of a prime minister who was trying to kill the Jews, and the king saved the Jews; again during the time of Cyrus the Great, where he saved the Jews from Babylon, and during the Second World War, where Iran saved the Jews.”
Challenge from the reporter
Senior NBC correspondent Ann Curry, who has been covering the nuclear talks between the powers and Iran for two years, challenged Zarif with the examples that Netanyahu gave in his Congress speech.
She quoted a tweet from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “This barbaric wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime, has no cure but to be annihilated.”
The Iranian foreign minister tried to avoid the question and claimed that Khamenei was not referring to all Jews, but the “Israeli regime” headed by Netanyahu.
“If we wanted to annihilate Jews, we have a large number of Jewish population in Iran who not only live in the country in peace, but, in fact, have a representative in Iranian parliament allocated to them, disproportionately to their number,” Zarif said.
“Every 150,000 Iranian Muslims has a representative in the parliament, whereas less than 20,000 Jews in Iran have a representative in the parliament. So we’re not about annihilation of Jews.
“We have a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people, and with Jews everywhere in the world. If people want to espouse fear mongering to fan such hysteria in the world, that’s to their detriment.”
`The regime is a threat’
Curry repeated the question and asked Zarif to qualify the distinction between “the regime in Israel” and the Jews.
“This regime is a threat,” Zarif replied. “A regime that engages in the killing of innocent children, a regime that engages in acts of aggression. Iran has not invaded any other country. We have not threatened to use force.
“Just exactly the opposite of Israel. Israel threatens to use force against Iran almost on a daily basis. Of course if they did use force against Iran, we would defend ourselves, as we have done with great sacrifice in the past. But we are not invading, we are not threatening anybody. We have not threatened anybody for 250 years.
“We have a record to prove of what we say. He doesn’t. He has a record full of infanticide, full of killing of innocent people, full of aggression against his neighbor, full of occupation.”
Curry continued to pressure Zarif. She reminded him that during the speech to Congress, Netanyahu accused him of laying a wreath at the grave of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for killing hundreds of Americans.
Again, Zarif tried to avoid the question: “First of all, we have our policy differences with the United States. Secondly, I’m not running for a popularity contest in the United States [against Netanyahu].”
Replying to Netanyahu’s accusation against him, Zarif said: “He is the one visiting [Jabhat] al-Nusra (Nusra Front) terrorists in Israeli hospitals. It’s for him to respond to those allegations. We have been proven, time and again, that we have supported people who stand for justice, who stand against oppression.
“We do not support blind terrorism. We never supported groups or tendencies that commit beheading in Syria and in Iraq. Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot make this unequivocal statement, which I can.”
`We will never have a bomb’
Regarding Mughniyeh, Zarif said he was only part of the resistance to Israel. “We’re not talking about a group that came from all over the world to Syria or to Iraq to wreak havoc,” Zarif said. “We’re talking about people defending their country, defending their territory against occupation.”
The Iranian foreign minister emphasized throughout the interview that Iran is not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons and has never tried to do so.
“We never had the bomb. We will never have a bomb. We’re not looking to have a bomb,” he said. “We do not believe a bomb is in our interest. Whereas [Netanyahu] does have a bomb. He has 200 nuclear weapons.
“He has stood against a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction. He continues to make allegations against Iran. He’s in no place to do that. He doesn’t have the authority, the moral authority, to do that.
“In 1992, he said Iran was three years away from the bomb or four years away from the bomb. In 1996, he repeated that. He said, in 2012, before the entire world, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, with that cartoon of a bomb, that Iran was a year away from making a bomb.
“Now we are in 2015 and he’s still repeating the same lie.”