TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's hard-line president warned Israel on Thursday that other nations in the region would take action against the Jewish state if it attacked Lebanon in the summer.
Although there has been discussion among Israeli experts about the possibility of another war against the Lebanon's Hezbollah guerillas, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other officials have denied plans for such a conflict. A war between the two sides last summer ended in a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.
Israeli troops are in the midst of an offensive against the Palestinian Hamas faction in response to rocket attacks on Israeli border towns, arresting more than 30 senior members of Islamic militant group in the West Bank early Thursday.
"If you think that by bombing and assassinating Palestinian leaders you are preparing ground for new attacks on Lebanon in the summer, I am telling you that you are seriously wrong," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in the city of Isfahan.
"If this year you repeat the same mistake of the last year, the ocean of nations of the region will get angry and will cut the root of the Zionist regime from its stem," added Ahmadinejad, speaking live on state television.
Ahmadinejad warned Israel that "60 years of invasion and assassination is enough. If you do not cease invasion and massacre, soon the hand of power of the nations of the region will rub you criminals with earth."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Ahmadinejad's comments reflected the Iranian leadership's support for the "most extreme elements in Lebanon and in the Palestinian Authority."
"Ahmadinejad funds, trains and arms the most extreme anti-peace elements in the region. If there is any real threat to regional security, it comes from an expansionist fundamentalist Iran," Regev said.
The 34-day Israeli-Hezbollah war started after the pro-Iranian militants captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross border raid in July 2006. The cease-fire called for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon along the border with Israel.
After the inconclusive outcome of the war, Israelis are seen as unlikely to start another one unless they felt they could emerge clearly victorious. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lost most of his public support after Israel failed to achieve its stated goals — freeing the captured soldiers and crushing Hezbollah.
Ahmadinejad has a history of verbal attacks on Israel.
In October 2005, he raised outrage in the West when he declared that Israel's "Zionist regime should be wiped off the map." His supporters and some independent analysts have since argued Ahmadinejad's words were mistranslated from Farsi and actually meant "vanish from the pages of time" — implying Israel would disappear on its own rather be destroyed.
Ahmadinejad appears to be stepping up his confrontational tone at a time when Iran faces renewed pressure by the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program and just days before direct Iran-U.S. talks in Baghdad on Iraq's security.
The United States, which has long accused Iran of providing sophisticated explosives to militants in Iraq, has also increased its military presence in the Gulf as a show of force.
Ahmadinejad comments Thursday also likely reflect his attempt to cast himself in the role of a champion of the Palestinian cause. Iran support the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups that refuse to recognize Israel.