Prague, 27 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad yesterday cited comments by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, when he declared, "As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."
Ahmadinejad told an audience of 3,000 students that there was "no doubt the new wave [of attacks] in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot from the face of the Islamic world."
The remarks were immediately condemned by a number of countries including Israel, which said that Iran should be expelled from the United Nations.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in reaction to the remarks that Iran represents a danger for Israel. "Today, Israelis saw two extreme examples of violent language, where leaders in the Muslim world called for the destruction of Israel," he said. "Both the Iranian president and the leader of Hamas, al-Zahar, talked openly about destroying Israel. It is not surprising that there are people out there who take this extreme language, this violent language, and transform it into violent actions."
The United States also expressed concern over Ahmadinejad’s remarks. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last night in Washington: "I think you are starting to see, through some of these remarks, some of the true views and intentions of this [Iranian] regime, and I think that it only serves to underscore our concern, as well as the international communities concern, about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons."
There were also condemnation by a number of European countries, including Great Britain, which described the comments as "sickening," and Germany, which said the remarks are "unacceptable".
Anti-Israel comments are regularly made by hard-line Iranian officials during official events and regime rallies. They are usually aimed at their supporters inside the country. Ahmadinejad made his comments at a conference held in preparation for an anti-Israel demonstration, which is held every year on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.
Mehdi Mozafari, a professor of international relations at Arhus University in Denmark, told RFE/RL that Ahmadinejad was eyeing his supporters, but he was also trying to justify the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. "He is trying to create a new enemy, which is actually an old enemy, but he is putting emphasis on that so that Iran’s attempts to attain nuclear arms are justified," he said. "Right now, Iran is not being threatened by any country, and regimes that threatened Iran like the regime of Saddam Hussein have been destroyed. So [Iranian officials] are forced to create a new enemy and say that it represents a serious threat to Iran."
Some observers believe yesterday's comments by President Ahmadinejad could signal a change in Iran’s foreign policy.
During the eight-year term of President Mohammad Khatami, the Islamic Republic followed a policy of detente and Khatami used every opportunity to promote his idea of "dialogue among civilizations".
President Ahmadinejad had harsh words for Islamic countries that might recognize Israel. "Anybody who takes a step toward Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury," he said.
Israel currently has diplomatic relations with several Muslim-majority countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Mauritania, and Turkey. Qatar has had low-level diplomatic contacts with Israel, as has Pakistan.
Mozafari said Ahmadinejad’s comments demonstrate Iran’s concern over developments in the region. "This is an attempt to create a new crisis for the survival of Iran’s regime, and maybe it also shows the anxiety of Iranian officials in face of new developments such as the fact that Syria is being caught for the first time, Lebanon is separating itself from Syria and Iran, Pakistan is on its way to recognize Israel, and this is not good news for a regime that has always been engaged in brinkmanship and crisis," he said. "Therefore, Mr. Ahmadinejad is launching a new call to the youth that we need to return to the essence of the revolution and to our leader."
Mozafari believes that in the coming days the international condemnation of Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped out will intensify.
Dr. Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, said Ahmadinejad's comments put Iran in a difficult position on the international scene. "In my view, whatever the views and feeling of Ahmadinejad are about Israel and Palestine, he should not forget that he speaks as an official of the Islamic Republic. He speaks as the president of Iran and when he says very clearly that Israel should be eradicated, a country that has been accepted by the UN. This is against all international principles and agreements and it is not in line with rational and acceptable behavior that is expected by the heads of countries. On the one hand we say why is the world so sensitive about our nuclear program, on the other hand if we want the international community to respect us then we also have to follow some international norms and principles," Zibakalam said.
The "Financial Times" today reported that European diplomats suggested the comments would not derail efforts by France, Britain, and Germany to get Iran to return to the negotiating table and halt work at its uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan.