The statement by Iran’s president, Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Israel should be “wiped off the map” is unacceptable. Apart from purely moral objections, there are legal issues too: As a member of the United Nations, Iran has agreed never to use force or threaten the use of force against other countries. His comments go beyond the pale of civilized discourse and must be repudiated and condemned.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is the newly elected president of Iran. As a relative newcomer to the international stage — he was the former mayor of Tehran — he may be unfamiliar with the attention that will now be paid to his every utterance. But his comment should not be dismissed as mere naivete. Iran has weapons that can strike Israel, it is engaged in a game of chicken with the international community over its nuclear programs, and the president’s feelings are shared by many Iranians. As he noted afterward when questioned about the remark, “my words were the Iranian nation’s words.”

Fortunately, there was no delay in criticism against his comments: Governments around the world called the statement unacceptable. Israel has called for the matter to be taken up by the U.N. Security Council. And in an attempt to calm the furor, Iran’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged its U.N. obligations and denied having any intention of attacking Israel.

In fact, the government’s official policy is that Iran supports whatever the Palestinian people choose to do to resolve their conflict with Israel. The key word there is “resolving” the conflict: Encouraging violence does not bring peace any closer. Mr. Ahmadinejad may be right: Many Iranians may share that view. But he is the leader of his country and in that position he should be shaping public opinion, not pandering to it or encouraging its worst excesses.

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