- Published on Sunday, 19 August 2012 11:18
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for "a new Middle East, with no memory of the American or Zionist presence," at the Iranian Jerusalem (al-Quds) Day rally on Friday, following increasing Israeli rhetoric about a possible attack on Iran to halt what the Israelis believe to be a nuclear weapons program.
At the event at Tehran University, Ahmadinejad also called Israel "a malignant cancer, an insult to humanity." General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' aerial corps, said that an Israeli attack on Iran would be welcomed, as it would allow them to "get rid of Israel forever".
The Jerusalem Day rally is an annual anti-Zionist event that calls for the liberation of Palestine, usually held on the last Friday of Ramadan. It is traditionally used by Iran to make what Israeli newspaper Haaretz calls "warlike declarations", though this time Haaretz said that they thought Iran had "raised the volume a bit".
Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah also used a Jerusalem Day rally in Beirut to warn Israel of the consequences of attacking Iran, saying that the Iranian response to such an attack would be like "lightning".
He also claimed that Hezbollah, which is Iranian-backed, could kill tens of thousands of Israelis with "precision rockets".
"I tell the Israelis that you have a number of targets, not a large number ... that can be hit with precision rockets ... which we have," Haaretz reported.
Nasrallah continued, "Hitting these targets with a small number of rockets will turn ... the lives of hundreds of thousands of Zionists to real hell, and we can talk about tens of thousands of dead."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that the verbal attacks on Israel were "offensive and inflammatory". EU Foreign Policy Chief and the West's head negotiator with Iran over its nuclear policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, also condemned what she called "outrageous and hateful remarks".
The Hezbollah and Iranian threats follow an increasing escalation of Israeli rhetoric surrounding an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, which Iran has always insisted are for peaceful, civilian purposes. Israel's outgoing Home Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai told Israeli newspaper Maariv last week that Israel was "prepared as never before" for a conflict "that will last 30 days on several fronts".
Both Vilnai and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak have estimated that such a conflict could leave 500 Israelis dead, the BBC reported.
However, there is much disagreement within Israel over attacking Iran. On Thursday, Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke out against a unilateral Israeli strike in an interview on Israeli television, saying, ""It is clear that we can't do this by ourselves. We could delay it, but it is clear that we have to cooperate with America."
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reacted strongly against the President's comments, with aides claiming that Peres had "forgotten the role of a president in the State of Israel."
The Obama government said it was pleased with Peres' comments, with White House's principal deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, telling reporters in the US, "We certainly were gratified to see President Peres' comments on this topic."
Earnest added that the US government's commitment to stopping Iran getting nuclear weapons was "rock solid".