Iran will help any nation or group that confronts the “cancer” Israel, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said.
In remarks delivered to worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran and broadcast on state TV, he said the country would continue its controversial nuclear programme, and warned that any military strike by the US would only make Iran stronger.
Khamenei warned that Tehran would reveal a letter sent by the US president, Barack Obama, to the Iranian leadership in an attempt to end the nuclear standoff. Khamenei said it showed the US could not be trusted. The White House denied that such a letter exists.
Iranian officials have consistently reacted defiantly to indications by the US and Israel that they might at some point take military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Any statement by Iran’s supreme leader, who has the final say on all matters of state, makes it all the more unlikely that Tehran will switch tack.
Khamenei affirmed that Iran had assisted militant groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas – a well-known policy, but one that Iranian leaders rarely acknowledge explicitly.
“We have intervened in anti-Israel matters, and it brought victory in the 33-day war by Hezbollah against Israel in 2006, and in the 22-day war” between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, he said.
Israel’s large-scale military incursion against Hamas in 2008-09 in Gaza ended in a ceasefire, with Israel claiming to have inflicted heavy damage on the militant organisation. The war in Lebanon ended with a UN-brokered truce that sent thousands of Lebanese troops and international peacekeepers into southern Lebanon to prevent another outbreak.
“From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this,” said Khamenei.
He said Israel was a “cancerous tumour that should be cut and will be cut”.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said he wasn’t surprised by Khamenei’s remarks. “It’s the same kind of hate speech that we’ve been seeing from Iran for many years now,” Yigal Palmor said.
Khamenei said the US would suffer defeat and lose standing in the region if Washington decided to use military force to stop the country’s nuclear programme.
“Iran will not withdraw. Then what happens?” asked Khamenei. “In conclusion, the west’s hegemony and threats will be discredited” in the Middle East. “The hegemony of Iran will be promoted. In fact, this will be in our service.”
Both the US and Israel have not ruled out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which the west suspects are aimed at developing weapons technology.
Iran says its nuclear activities are geared towards peaceful purposes such as power generation and medical isotopes.
Another potential military flashpoint is the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iran has threatened to close the strait in response to US and EU sanctions targeting the country’s oil exports.
Khamenei warned that Iran might reveal a letter that it claims to have received from President Obama, which he implied contained promises that Washington had not offered.
“The US president sent a letter to us and we replied. Then they showed reaction and took action. The letters one day will be revealed to the public and people will find what their words are. One of our essential jobs is to be aware about their deceptions in their promises and smiles,” he said.
Khamenei did not say when the letters had supposedly been exchanged.
An Iranian politician claimed in January that Obama had asked for direct talks with Iran in a secret letter, which also warned Tehran against closing the Strait of Hormuz.
Obama administration officials have denied there was such a letter. Tehran and Washington cut diplomatic relations after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
Half of Khamenei’s nearly two-hour speech was delivered in Arabic, an apparent nod to the Arab world. Iran has applauded the victory of Islamist groups in elections in 2011 and 2012 following the toppling of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
The supreme leader said the Islamist electoral victories would weaken and isolate Israel, and that they represented the failure of what he said was US policy based on “anti-Islam” propaganda.