x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rabbi's call for prayers for destruction of Iran heightens fears of attack by Israel

An influential rabbi has called for prayers for Iran's destruction - a week after the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appeared to court his support for a possible attack against Iran's nuclear programme.

JERUSALEM // An influential rabbi has called for prayers for Iran's destruction - a week after the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appeared to court his support for a possible attack against Iran's nuclear programme, which Israel views as an existential threat.

The sermon by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef added to a flurry of recent rhetoric from Israeli officials that has raised international concern that Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, might attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

"[When] we ask God to 'bring an end to our enemies', we should be thinking about Iran, those evil ones who threaten Israel. May the Lord destroy them," Rabbi Yosef was quoted as saying.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu sent his national security adviser to brief Rabbi Yosef, 91, on Iran's nuclear activities in what was widely seen as an effort to win his backing for any future military strike, possibly before the US presidential vote in November.

Rabbi Yosef is the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a key member of Mr Netanyahu's governing coalition. He once served as Israel's chief rabbi.

The influential cleric issued his call in a sermon late on Saturday, in which he said Iran should be included in a traditional Jewish New Year blessing over food next monthin which God is asked to strike down Israel's enemies.

The Baghdad-born rabbi has previously stirred controversy by likening Palestinians to snakes, calling for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to "perish from this world" and describing non-Jews as "born only to serve us".

But he has also spoken out in favour of Israel ceding occupied land for peace with the Palestinians to end conflict and save Jewish lives.