On Saturday, January 26, in its strongest warning to date, a top Iranian official said that any attack on Syria would be deemed an attack on Iran, signaling that Tehran will do everything in its power to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime from toppling.
Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency quotes the aide (Ali Akbar Velayati) to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying the U.S. and Arab states in the Gulf have attacked what he called the “golden ring of resistance” by backing the rebels trying to oust the Syrian leader. He says Syria plays a key role in supporting the “resistance front,” a reference to the militant groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran and Syria, which are all anti-American. And he says an attack on Syria is considered an attack on Iran and its allies, according to an AP report.
Velayati made his comments while Syrian troops conducted offensive air raids against rebel strongholds and discovered a trio of tunnels they were using to smuggle weapons in their fight against Assad.
Since the insurrection against Assad’s regime erupted nearly two years ago, the world is in a quandary on just how to deal with the internecine warfare, but thus far, there has been no international intervention on the ground where more than 60,000 people have been killed, according to the U.N.
Iran is Syria’s strongest ally in the Middle East, and has provided Assad’s government with military and political backing for years. In September, the top commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the elite unit had high-level advisers in Syria. Iran also is believed to be sending weapons and money to Syria as it endures its worst crisis in decades.
“Syria plays a very key role in supporting or, God forbid, destabilizing the resistance front,” Velayati was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying. “For this same reason, an attack on Syria is considered an attack on Iran and Iran’s allies
Iran also is at odds with the international community over its nuclear program, although Iran insists it is using the program solely for peaceful purposes, not nuclear weapons.
A former Iranian diplomat who defected to the West in 2010 told Israel’s channel 2 TV in an interview broadcast on Friday that if Tehran acquired nuclear weapons, it would use them against Israel.
Mohammad Reza Heydari, who has political asylum in Norway, claimed that Venezuela was flying uranium and various components for nuclear weapons to Tehran. Venezuela backs Iran in arguing the nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.
Since the unrest in Syria began in March 2011, opposition forces have taken control of wide swathes of territory, mostly in the north near Syria’s border with Turkey.
NATO said Saturday that the first of six Patriot missile batteries being deployed to Turkey to shoot down missiles that might come from the Syrian side of the border was now operational. The battery, meant to protect the Turkish city of Adana, was provided by the Netherlands.
The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are providing two batteries each of the latest version of the U.S.-made Patriots. The other five Patriot batteries are expected to be operational in the coming days in Adana, Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep.
NATO says the Patriots would be used for defensive purposes only. Syria has not fired any of its surface-to-surface missiles at Turkey during the civil war, but the Assad regime has described the NATO deployment as a provocation.
The alliance also deployed Patriot batteries to Turkey during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq 10 years ago. They were never used and were withdrawn a few months later.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said during an interview on Turkish television late Friday that the rebel forces now control some 70 percent of Syria.
“If you ask me if Bashar is able endure much longer, I say, Bashar is walking, propped up from behind,” said Erdogan, who was a close ally of Assad’s until the crisis began. “He is losing the support of the Syrian people every day.”
“At the moment Damascus is under siege. Aleppo is to a great degree already under the hands of the opposition. In other words, I can say that some 70 percent of the country is under the control of the opposition,” Erdogan said.
In the Turkish capital, Istanbul, members of the Syrian opposition gathered Saturday to kick-off a conference aimed at establishing a transitional justice system in Syria after the fall of Assad’s regime. The two-day meeting was organized by the U.S.-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
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