Iran's foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif

Iran's foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif claimed that Iran has "saved the Jews three times", in reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress which said Iran was bent on destroying Israel.

In an interview with NBC in the wake of Netanyahu's uncompromising speech, Zarif said that the Israeli prime minster should brush up on history and Biblical scripture, and was distorting the current situation.

"It is unfortunate that Mr. Netanyahu now totally distorts realities of today," Zarif said. "He even distorts his own scripture. If you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews.

"It is truly, truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved Jews three times in its history: once during that time of a prime minister who was trying to kill the Jews, and the king saved the Jews; again during the time of Cyrus the Great, where he saved the Jews from Babylon, and during the Second World War, where Iran saved the Jews."

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei has in the past called for Israel to be "annihilated", but Zarif said that the Iranian supreme leader was referring to Israel, and not the Jews.

"If we wanted to annihilate Jews, we have a large number of Jewish population in Iran who not only live in the country in peace, but, in fact, have a representative in Iranian parliament allocated to them, disproportionately to their number," Zarif said.

"This regime is a threat," Zarif replied. "A regime that engages in the killing of innocent children, a regime that engages in acts of aggression. Iran has not invaded any other country. We have not threatened to use force."

On Wednesday, in an effort raise opposition to a nuclear deal proposed by the Obama administration in which Iranian sanctions would be partly raised in exchange for increased international inspection of nuclear facilities, Netanyahu directly addressed the US Congress on Tuesday, March 3.

He began his speech recalling a Persian plot to destroy the Jewish people 2,500 years ago, and said that if the current deal was agreed on it could "well threaten my country and the survival of my people".

He alleged that Iran was behind much of the conflict currently tearing through the Middle East, and said: "We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest subjugation and terror."

Zarif denied that Iran was seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

"We never had the bomb. We will never have a bomb. We're not looking to have a bomb," he said. "We do not believe a bomb is in our interest. Whereas [Netanyahu] does have a bomb. He has 200 nuclear weapons."