Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called Israel a “cancerous tumor” on Saturday in a relatively unprecedented comment.
Iran’s leaders frequently condemn Israel and predict its demise, but Rouhani, a relative moderate president, rarely employs such rhetoric.
Addressing an annual Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran, Rouhani said “one of the ominous results of World War II was the formation of a cancerous tumor in the region.”
The Iranian president went on to refer to Israel as a “fake regime” set up by Western countries, and called for unity in the Muslim world.
"Today, there is no way for Muslims except unity and solidarity. If we unite, we can undoubtedly score a victory against the Zionists and the Americans. The Muslim world is alone and Muslims should join hands. Relying on outsiders is the biggest historical mistake," he declared.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Rouhani's statement, saying "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."
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also condemned the Iranian president's remarks. "I strongly condemn the recently unacceptable statements made by President Rouhani's regarding Israel," wrote Kurz on Twitter.
"Questioning Israel's right to exist and calling for its destruction is absolutely unacceptable," said Kurz and added that Austria has a historic responsibility to fight against all forms of anti-Semitism and support Israel. "Israel's security is not open to negotiations," he stressed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.