JERUSALEM—“I wish the Iranian people the best of luck in their struggle for freedom and democracy,” Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said in an interview with Army Radio Monday morning as he became the first senior Israeli official to comment on the developing protests in Iran.
At least 12 people have been killed in the ongoing protests in Iran, and armed protesters have tried to take over police stations and military bases, state TV reported Monday. The biggest challenge to the authority of the Tehran regime since mass protests in 2009.
The protests began as demonstrations against economic conditions in second city Mashhad on Thursday but quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole, with thousands marching in towns across Iran to chants of “Death to the dictator.”
“Iran is developing ballistic missiles that threaten Israel, and is supporting terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah,” Katz said. “They need to understand that Israel will exist forever, while the Ayatollah regime will vanish long before that.”
Iran is currently working on upgrading Hamas’s capabilities, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“In recent days, while we face the known threat from Gaza, there is a direct Iranian intervention. Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are involved in operative preparations to upgrade the threat to Israel from the direction of Gaza,” he stated.
Katz said that Iran increased its involvement after Hamas was forced to leave Qatar due to pressure from Saudi Arabia.
The minister spoke about Iran’s role in destabilizing the region and expressed his hope that a successful democratic revolution in the country will solve many of the Middles East’s problems.
“This regime acts against Israel and against all the Arab regimes in the region,” Katz said. “I think that if the Iranian people are successful in achieving freedom and democracy, that many of the threats in the region will lessen.”
Commenting on United States President Donald Trump’s recent statement that “the people of Iran are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism,” Katz said: “The American President says what he says, and I can safely say that the hard line he is leading is, without a doubt, projecting inwards. We must remember that Iran, as opposed to North Korea, is a country with citizens who are very sensitive to economic sanctions. Ayatollah Rouhani has said himself that the Iranian people see that they have no future.”
Katz denied any Israeli involvement in the anti-regime protests within Iran.
‘Israel is not involved with the riots in Iran… that being said, we want to see the repressive regime removed and replaced with a democracy. We don’t intervene, but we wish luck to the Iranian people in pursuit of freedom and democracy.”
Yona Schnitzer, TPS, contributed to this report