Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded barbs on Friday after Khamenei called on Palestinians to continue their uprising against Israel, comparing the Zionist regime to the coronavirus and a "cancerous tumor."
"The uprising by Palestinians should continue ... fight to liberate Palestine is an obligation and an Islamic jihad ... The Zionist regime (Israel) is a cancerous tumor in the region." Iran's top authority Khamenei said in an online speech. "The long-lasting virus of Zionists will be eliminated."
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Khamenei's speech later on Friday, saying "those who threaten to destroy Israel will find themselves in a similar danger."
Israeli Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said: "The State of Israel has great challenges in a variety of arenas. Khamenei's statement that Israel is a 'cancerous tumor' illustrates this more than anything." He said on Facebook: "I do not suggest anyone to test us ... We will be prepared for all threats, and by any means."
Speaking on Jerusalem Day, Khamenei also compared the "Zionist regime" to coronavirus: "Some argue that the Zionist regime is a reality that the region must come to terms with. Today the coronavirus is a reality; should it be accepted or fought?! The long-lasting virus of Zionism will be uprooted thanks to the determination and faith of the youth," he said, while tweeting the hashtag #Covid1948, a reference to the year Israel was established.
Khamenei also called for more far-reaching support to armed organizations that fight Israel. "My main advice is to continue this struggle & better organize anti-occupation organizations, cooperation and expand the areas of Jihad inside Palestinian territories. Everyone must help the Palestinian fighters. We will proudly do everything in our power on this path," he said.
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Khamenei also used classic anti-Semitic tropes and claimed that "The main agents of disastrous creation of israel are western governments conspiring with Jewish plutocrats, Britain prepared a fabrication called Zionism to play its role. After WWII, they abused problems of region’s states & declared the bogus regime, nationless Zionist state."
Khamenei also claimed Israel was responsible for the creation of ISIS: "Pay attention! U.S. & Zionists’ policy is staging wars in Syria, carrying out constant killings in Yemen, [is responsible for] the creation of ISIS in Iraq, etc. to divert world of Islam’s attention & provide opportunities for Zionist regime.The way to prevent that is vigilance of proud youth of world of Islam."
He added: "Westerners and Jewish corporation owners’ main goal by fabricating the Zionist regime and this cancerous tumor was to build a stronghold to influence and dominate West Asia. So, they equipped the bogus, occupying regime with all kinds of military & non-military tools, even nukes.''
The United States and European Union rejected the comments. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter dismissed them as "disgusting and hateful anti-Semitic remarks" that did not represent the tradition of tolerance of ordinary Iranians.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said they were "totally unacceptable and represent a deep source of concern".
Although leaders of Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have frequently praised Iran's financial and military support, Khamenei had not himself previously given public confirmation of Tehran's weapons supply. "Iran realized Palestinian fighters' only problem was lack of access to weapons. With divine guidance and assistance, we planned, and the balance of power has been transformed in Palestine, and today the Gaza Strip can stand against the aggression of the Zionist enemy and defeat it," he said.
Zeyad al-Nakhala, chief of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has publicly admitted getting Iranian arms and funds, praised Khamenei's comments. "We are ready for a long jihad and victory is granted," he said in remarks distributed by the group
Iranian officials have repeatedly called for an end to Israel, including by a referendum that would exclude most of its Jews while including Palestinians in the region and abroad.
Khamenei was speaking on Iran's annual Quds Day, which uses the Arabic name for Jerusalem, held on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Iran cancelled nationwide Quds Day rallies due to coronavirus. Iran is one of the most-affected countries in the region with 7,300 deaths and a total of 131,652 infections.
Khamenei also denounced what he called treason by "political and cultural mercenaries in Muslim countries" helping Zionists to downplay the Palestine issue, an apparent reference to some Arab states including Iran's regional rival Saudi Arabia.