JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli leaders made no comment on Tuesday over the latest outburst from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, maintaining near-total silence as the country closed down for the holiest Jewish day of the year, Yom Kippur.
The Day of Atonement runs from Tuesday afternoon through to dusk on Wednesday, meaning there was no comment either on U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the United Nations.
Speaking in New York, Ahmadinejad said on Monday Israel had no roots in the Middle East and would be “eliminated”.
It was the latest piece of fiery rhetoric from the Iranian leader, who has regularly riled Israel and fueled concern that if the Islamic Republic one day obtained nuclear weapons it might turn them on the Jewish State.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations denounced the comments but ministers and officials in Israel were silent. There was also little mention of his words in the Israeli press on Tuesday, which was focused instead on domestic politics.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior advisers, speaking in private, have shrugged off Ahmadinejad’s statements in the past, saying he did not have a policy-making role when it came to Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
Instead, they scrutinize the utterances of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, they say, is the person responsible for crucial decision-making.
Speaking on Monday in Jerusalem, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said he had no intention of getting into a slanging match with Iranian officials, adding that Israel was used to being on the receiving end of incendiary rhetoric.
Israel has threatened military action against Iran unless it renounces its ambitious nuclear programme, which Tehran says is purely for civilian purposes but which many countries in the West believe is designed at creating an Atomic bomb.
Obama told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that time was running out to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. “The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he added.
However, his statement represented no advance on the previous U.S. position and he appeared to ignore Netanyahu’s call for Washington to establish clear red lines for Iran.
The Israeli leader is due to fly to New York once Yom Kippur ends and will address the General Assembly on Thursday. His office has said Obama declined a request to meet the U.S. president, but the two were expected to speak by telephone.
As every year, Israel ground to a halt at the approach of Yom Kippur. Radio and television went off the air, the national airport was shut and the streets emptied.
In 1973, a coalition of Arab states launched a surprise attack on Israel during the Jewish holy day, threatening to overwhelm the country. Israel launched a massive counter-offensive before a ceasefire took hold.
(This version of the story has been corrected to fix typo in paragraph 2 to read “Day of Atonement”)
Writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Andrew Roche