Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday warned Israel it would be uprooted if the Jewish state attacked Lebanon in the coming summer.
“If you think that by bombing and assassinating Palestinian leaders you are preparing ground for new attacks on Lebanon in the summer, I am telling you that you are seriously wrong,” Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the city of Isfahan.
“If this year you repeat the same mistake of the last year, the ocean of nations of the region will get angry and will cut root of the Zionist regime from its stem,” added Ahmadinejad, speaking live on state television.
Referring to the history of Israel, Ahmadinejad said that “60 years of invasion and assassination is enough. If you do not cease invasion and massacre, soon the hand of power of the nations of the region will rub you criminals with earth.”
“They think it is still time of some 60 years ago and the Palestinian nation is asleep,” said Ahmadinejad, speaking of Israel.
There has been no indication so far of any eventual new Israeli-Lebanese conflict but Ahmadinejad’s comments came as Israeli troops in the West Bank arrested more than 30 senior Hamas members early Thursday, including a Cabinet minister, legislators and mayors - pressing forward with an offensive against the Islamic militant group.
Champion of the Palestinian cause
Israel has been attacking Hamas targets for more than a week in retaliation for repeated rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli border towns.
The Israeli army said it arrested 33 Hamas leaders in its overnight sweep. The most prominent official taken in the roundup was Education Minister Nasser Shaer, considered a pragmatist in the movement.
Last summer saw a 34-day war between Israel and the Hizbullah militants in Lebanon, sparked after two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by the pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian Hizbullah militants in a cross-border raid.
The fighting ended with a UN-brokered cease-fire that called for deployment of UN Peacekeepers and Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon along the border with Israel. Ahmadinejad is well known for his verbal attacks on Israel.
In October 2005, he raised outrage in the West when he said in a speech that Israel’s “Zionist regime should be wiped off the map.” His supporters and some independent analysts have since argued Ahmadinejad’s words were mistranslated from Farsi and should have been better translated as “Vanish from the pages of time” - implying Israel would vanish on its own rather be destroyed.
The Iranian hard-liner appears to be stepping up his confrontational tone in recent days - at a time when Tehran faces renewed pressure by the UN Security Council over its controversial uranium enrichment and just days before first direct Iran-US talks on Iraq security issues on Monday in Baghdad.
The United States, which has long accused Iran of providing sophisticated explosives to militants in Iraq, has also increased its military presence in the Gulf as a show of force in Iran’s face.
Ahmadinejad comments Thursday also likely reflect his attempt to cast himself in the role of a champion of the Palestinian cause. Iran’s meddling is also reflected in its support of the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups that refuse to recognize Israel.