JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani on Sunday, saying that he shared his hardline predecessor's aim of destroying the Jewish state.
"The president of Iran said the day before yesterday (Friday) that Israel is a wound on the body of Islam," Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
"The president of Iran may have been changed but the aims of the regime there have not," Netanyahu said.
"Iran's intention is to develop a nuclear capability and nuclear weapons, with the aim of destroying the state of Israel." Rowhani formally took office on Saturday at a ceremony in which he received the endorsement of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who retains the final say on all strategic issues, including nuclear talks with the the major powers.
Western governments suspect that Iran's nuclear programme is cover for a drive for a weapons capability. Iran insists it is for power generation and medical purposes only.
Both the United States and Israel - which has the Middle East's sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal - have refused to rule out a resort to military action to prevent Iran developing a weapons capability.
Rowhani succeeds Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose turbulent two-term presidency was marked by frequent outbursts against Israel.
Rowhani too took a swipe at the Jewish state during Friday rallies marking the annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day.
"In our region, a wound has for many years been sitting on the body of the Islamic world in the shadow of occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds," Rowhani said in remarks broadcast on state television.
He pledged allegiance to the Palestinian cause and rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, an unfaltering cornerstone of Iranian foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the US-backed shah.