Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he’d like to pray in Jerusalem, but first Israel has to relinquish the city it calls its capital.
Speaking to Al Mayadeen TV ahead of his historic trip to Egypt this week, Ahmadinejad said he would like to visit next-door Gaza, which is ruled by the terrorist group Hamas.
Asked if he would visit Gaza during this journey or before his presidential term expires in June, he said: “My wish is bigger than this. I wish to pray in Jerusalem after complete liberation.”
“Gaza is one stop before Jerusalem. If I’m allowed, I will visit Gaza,” he said.
According to Israel National News, the Iranian leader also told the interviewer, “The period of the Zionists is over.”
“They (the Zionists) should give their place to others,” he added.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt is considered significant as it is the first visit of an Iranian leader to Egypt since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979. It is also an indication of how much Egypt has changed since President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power. Both Mubarak and his predecessor President Anwar Sadat were vilified in Iran and other Muslim countries for honoring the peace treaty with Israel.
Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East scholar with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tweets: “Iranian leaders used to refuse to visit Mubarak’s Egypt because of ties to US & Israel. Morsi doesn’t have that stigma. This visit is big.”
Ahmadinejad is expected to meet with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on the sidelines of the two-day summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo.
Morsi, who spent much of his political career in the Muslim Brotherhood, traveled to Iran in August. It was also the first time since 1979 that an Egyptian leader visited Iran.
That Egypt is Sunni and Iran Shiite doesn’t seem to be posing an obstacle to the warming relations.
“Morsi’s visit to Tehran was a step forward, and so will be my visit to Cairo,” Ahmadinejad said on Monday. According to Ynet, he said closer Iranian-Egyptian ties could constitute a counterweight to Israel. “Egypt and Iran can tip the scales in favor of the Palestinian people. If we agree about the liberation of Palestine, it will surely happen,” he added.
“We want the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people to be fulfilled,” he said, according to Israel National News, adding, “We support the Palestinian people whatever it takes.”
Morsi’s cultivation of ties with a regime that has stated a commitment to destroying Israel and that is defying international sanctions by continuing work on the clandestine elements of its nuclear program has thus far made no impact on U.S. military aid to Egypt. Just this Sunday, an American military delegation delivered four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt.
The Obama administration has not given any indication it is weighing a change or a scale-back in military aid, but Republican senators sent President Obama a letter last week asking the administration to delay the delivery of an additional 16 F-16s expected to be delivered in 2013.
An Egyptian military source tells Reuters that while in Egypt, the American delegation discussed preparations for the Bright Star joint training exercise this October, the largest exercise of its kind in the region.
The last Bright Star scheduled for 2011 was canceled after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
On Thursday, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation to conditionally suspend certain military sales to Egypt, including the F-16s. He wrote: “We need to continue to support the Egyptian military, which Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have currently distanced themselves from. Egypt’s military is our friend – Morsi is our enemy.”
These latest anti-Israel remarks from Ahmadinejad come just one week after the Iranian president called on the Muslim world to mobilize together to uproot Zionism.