Minister boasts Israel ‘is the only country in the world killing Iranians’

The explosive comments have sparked uproar in Iran, which itself has previously threatened to “wipe” Israel off the “global map”

UK-Iran radio exchange released after tanker seized in Gulf

Israel is “the only country in the world killing Iranians” a senior Israeli minister has boasted, ratcheting up regional tensions with Tehran as Britain prepares an emergency security meeting on Iranian seizure of tankers in the Gulf.

The explosive comments by Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister, sparked a war of words with Iran’s public broadcaster over a weekend where Britain was dragged further into a regional conflict.

British-flagged Stena Impero was captured by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard late Friday. Iranian officials said it was in response to the detention of Iranian vessel Grace 1 in Gibraltar by the UK earlier this month.

Mr Hanegbi, a member of Israel’s ruling Likud Party and the security cabinet, said Israel was the only country taking firm action against Tehran, referencing Israel’s multiple strikes on Iranian positions in Syria.

“For two years now, Israel has been the only country in the world killing Iranians,” he told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan radio.

“We have beaten the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria. Sometimes we admit it, sometimes foreign publications expose the matter,” he added.

When asked what would happen if Israel were to “get in trouble with Iran” he said Tehran would be “very limited in their responses”.

“They understand that Israel means business,” he said, warning that Israel’s bombing campaign in Syria “isn’t over”.

Israel rarely claims its strikes in Syria for fear of triggering a reaction.

But in January Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged its air force had carried out hundreds of sorties over the past few years against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, to prevent the build up of Iranian infrastructure just across its border.

Israel was on the cusp of an all-out war with its arch-enemy last May after the Israeli military said its positions in the occupied Golan Heights were pounded by a barrage of Iranian rockets, triggering retaliatory strikes.

Iranian generals have repeatedly threatened to “wipe” Israel off the “global map”. But Mr Hanegbi’s comments mark some of the more inflammatory from Israel, sparing uproar in Iran.

Tensions are high in the Persian Gulf after Iran seized the British oil tanker Stena Impero (REUTERS)

Tehran’s Press TV tweeted a quote of the minister, writing “this is how Israelis are freely and proudly talking about killing Iranians! Just imagine what would happen if it was the other way around! |

The Israeli minister hit back at the channel offering a “creative idea” to stop Israeli strikes in Syria, telling the Iranians to stop arming Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which according to a recent report in The Daily Beast is redeploying on Lebanon’s border with Israel readying for war.

Mr Hanegbi added: “When that happens, we will no longer have to destroy Iranian terrorist organisations and there will be no more Iranian casualties. Understood?”

In the UK, meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May will hold a meeting of Britain's emergencies committee on Monday to discuss the seizure of the Stena Impero after Iran warned that the fate of the tanker depends on an investigation.

Moment Iranian forces storm British oil tanker in Gulf

The ship and its 23 crew members remain impounded off the port of Bandar Abbas.

Dramatic video footage released by Iran showed the tanker being surrounded by speedboats before troops in balaclavas dropped from a helicopter onto the vessel.

Iran opened a probe claiming it was detaining the ship on allegations it failed to respond to distress calls after after hitting a fishing boat.

A top British representative to the United Nations rejected Iran's version of events, saying there was no evidence of a collision and accusing Tehran of “illegal interference”.

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, said Tehran saw the situation as a “tit for tat” for the seizure of Grace 1 in Gibraltar earlier this month on suspicion of transporting fuel to Syria, against EU sanctions.

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