Leader: Iran, Israel not friends
Ayatollah deems idea 'illogical'
TEHRAN - Iran's supreme leader said yesterday that it was illogical to say Iranians are friends with the Israeli people, seeking to end a controversy over Tehran's stance toward the Jewish state, its biggest enemy in the region.
The controversy was sparked in mid-July when Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai said Iranians were "friends of all people in the world - even Israelis."
That raised anger from some hard-line lawmakers who said that Israelis were not friends and that Mashai's comments did not reflect government policy. They also lashed out at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over his decision not to dismiss the vice president, a close ally.
On Thursday, Ahmadinejad stood by Mashai again, saying Iran is not against Israelis, though he stopped short of calling them friends. "We don't have a problem with people. But in no way do we recognize the Zionist regime," he said.
He depicted Jews who have immigrated to Israel as having been tricked by "Zionist propaganda" and said Iranians are "sympathetic to them."
"We are opposed to the idea that people tricked into coming there should be thrown into the sea or be burned," he told reporters. "We believe that all the original people of Palestine, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, should hold a free referendum and choose their government. Then those who were brought in can decide whether to leave or stay under the government of Palestine."
He repeated his frequent predictions that Israel with its current regime would not survive.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds final word in all state matters, weighed in for the first time yesterday, defending Ahmadinejad while also saying politicians should put the matter to rest. His support for Ahmadinejad suggested he backed the president's broader stance toward Israel and Israelis but the word "friends" had gone too far.
"That it is said we are friends of the Israeli people . . . is incorrect and illogical. The people of Israel are the same who are occupying houses, territories and farms [of Palestinians]," Khamenei said in his Friday prayer sermon. But he ordered an end to debates over the issue.
"Somebody said it. It was a mistake . . . the issue must be ended. That one person says one thing and another says another creates tension. It should not be a means for tension. It's over," he said.
With the remarks, Ahmadinejad appears to be striking a nuanced stance that Iran does not seek to kill all Israelis but wants to end Israel's Zionist regime. Ahmadinejad has been repeatedly condemned in the West for his comments predicting Israel's destruction, including that it would one day be "wiped off the map."
Ahmadinejad heads to New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting, which begins Monday. During past such visits, Ahmadinejad has come under fierce criticism and protests over his anti-Israeli rhetoric and Iran's controversial nuclear program.
Yesterday, Khamenei also defended Ahmadinejad against heavy criticism from his opponents over his handling of the economy.
"A lot of new services have been made. It is incorrect to ignore all these [services] and stick to one point," Khamenei told worshipers at Tehran University.
It was the second time recently the supreme leader has expressed support for Ahmadinejad, who has faced increasing criticism from both conservatives and reformists who accuse him of doing more harm than good in his three years in office.