Israel is the sinister, unclean, rabid dog of the region…. The Zionist regime is doomed to oblivion…. [The] leaders of the Zionist regime… look like beasts and…cannot be called human.
Those words were spoken on November 20 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, to a huge gathering of militiamen. They didn’t stop the P5+1 countries—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany—from signing a nuclear deal with Khamenei’s representatives three days later in Geneva.
Undoubtedly, such words from Iranian leaders are hardly something new. (You can find lengthy backlogs here and here.) The destruction of Israel is an official, explicit goal of the Iranian regime, and has been since it rose to power in 1979.
The then-leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, portrayed Israel in his book Velayat-e faqih (also known as Islamic Government) as a mortal threat to Islam, the latest incarnation of a Jewish campaign against Islam dating back to the time of Muhammad. “This regime occupying Jerusalem,” he proclaimed, “must vanish from the page of time.”
The Iranian regime’s Jew-hatred has deep roots in Shiite Islam, which regards Jews as ritually unclean. In Iranian (Persian) history Jews were at various times forced to wear badges (centuries before the Nazis instituted that practice), expelled from cities, forced to convert to Islam, and so on. In the mid-19th century, the historian and traveler J. J. Benjamin wrote about Persian Jews:
…they are obliged to live in a separate part of town…; for they are considered as unclean creatures…. Under the pretext of their being unclean, they are treated with the greatest severity and should they enter a street, inhabited by Mussulmans, they are pelted by the boys and mobs with stones and dirt…. For the same reason, they are prohibited to go out when it rains; for it is said the rain would wash dirt off them, which would sully the feet of the Mussulmans…. Sometimes the Persians intrude into the dwellings of the Jews and take possession of whatever please them. Should the owner make the least opposition in defense of his property, he incurs the danger of atoning for it with his life…. (quoted in Bernard Lewis’s The Jews of Islam)
For the current regime in Tehran, Israel is the unclean “Jew” of the Middle East, and the only fitting treatment is to excise it. A little over a year ago Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor” and the Muslim world’s gravest problem.
This is, of course, of concern to Israel, if not to heads of the world’s leading democracies.