Iran is a danger to the whole civilized world, not just Israel, President Shimon Peres warned Sunday, setting an especially somber tone for his nation's annual memorial day for soldiers and civilians killed in wars and terror attacks.
Alluding to Iran's nuclear program, Peres said the country threatens to annihilate Israel. "On no account must we underestimate these threats," he said. "Nor should our enemies underestimate our capabilities."
Israel has been urging the world community to impose stiff sanctions on Iran to force it to abandon its nuclear program, but Israel has not taken the option of a military strike against Iran off the table.
Israel, the U.S. and others believe Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
Speaking at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem before relatives of fallen soldiers, Peres added, "A threat to the peace of the Jewish people always carries the danger of turning into a threat to the civilized world as a whole."
Israel considers Iran a strategic threat because of its nuclear program, long-range missiles and frequent references by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Israel's destruction.
Just hours earlier in Tehran, Ahmadinejad addressed a military parade and warned, "Today, our armed forces have so much power that no enemy will harbor evil thoughts about laying its hands on Iranian territory." He called on the U.S. and its allies to pull out of the region "and stop supporting Israel."
Air raid sirens sounded across Israel after nightfall to mark the beginning of the solemn day, when relatives visit graves at military cemeteries around the country. Another siren at midmorning Monday signals the beginning of state ceremonies at the cemeteries.
According to Israeli government statistics, 22,684 soldiers and civilians have been killed since 1860, the date cited as the beginning of modern Jewish immigration.
The Defense Ministry said 111 Israelis have been added to the list over the past year. The figure includes soldiers killed in training and traffic accidents.
Places of entertainment were closed Sunday evening. Israeli radio and TV stations aired documentaries about Israel's wars and stories of fallen soldiers.
The somber tone transforms suddenly and jarringly into independence day celebrations after sundown Monday at a colorful ceremony at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, capped with a fireworks display.
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