Iranian political and military leaders joined Russia on Thursday in warning the United States and its allies that any military strike on Syria would ignite a wider Middle East war, lead to Israel's destruction and violate international law.
Warnings from Iran's Revolutionary Guard top commander and the armed forces chief of staff alluded to past foreign policy "mistakes" by Washington that sparked bloody conflict in the region and deeply indebted the United States.
The comment by the military chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, was an obvious reference to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 in vain pursuit of Saddam Hussein's purported cache of weapons of mass destruction.
"Any military action against Syria will drive the Zionists to the edge of fire," Firouzabadi said in a statement carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. His warning referred to Israel, which Iranian and other Shiite Muslim militants have vowed to strike in retaliation if its Western allies attack Syria.
Airstrikes are expected as early as this weekend to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians last week. Hundreds were reported killed in the attacks in Damascus suburbs.
“Military attack against Syria would be a strategic mistake and, if it took place, its dimensions would not be limited,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said in a statement carried by the Tasnim news agency Thursday.
In dispatches from Dubai, other Middle East news agencies reported that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Mohammed Ali Jafari predicted that any attack on Syria would lead to Israel's "imminent destruction" and confront the United States with a "second Vietnam."
On Wednesday, according to Iranian state television, President Hassan Rouhani discussed the Syrian situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and pledged "extensive cooperation" to prevent airstrikes on Syria, their ally.
“Military action will bring great costs for the region” and “it is necessary to apply all efforts to prevent it," Rouhani was quoted as saying in his phone call with Putin.
Rouhani, who took office this month, denounced any use of chemical weapons and recalled that Iran had been a victim of such attacks in past conflicts, the television report said. But he also reportedly suggested that Washington and its allies were racing to judgment about which side in Syria's civil war was behind the reported use of poison gas last week.
"The U.N. must investigate the recent use of the chemical weapons and consider the facts," Rouhani was quoted by IRNA as telling the Iranian Cabinet on Wednesday.
He was in effect warning the West against premature conclusions about which side -- Assad's forces or insurgents -- was responsible for the attacks as a U.N. inspection team now in Syria isn't expected to wrap up its work until early Saturday.
The U.N. investigators plan to report their findings to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as soon as they are out of Syria, Ban told reporters in Vienna, where he cut short a trip Thursday to return to the world body's New York headquarters.
The inspectors have been charged only with finding evidence to confirm that chemical weapons were used in Syria, not with determining which side used the banned substances.Twitter: @cjwilliamslat