A senior Iranian lawmaker said Israel would be the first casualty of any U.S.-led strike on Syria, according to regional media reports.
Hossein Sheikholeslam, the director general of the Iranian parliament’s International Affairs bureau, claimed the United States would not dare attack Syria but said that if it does, “the Zionist regime will be the first victim.”
“No military attack will be waged against Syria,” Sheikholeslam was quoted as saying on Monday by Iran’s state run Fars News Agency.
“Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria,” Sheikholeslam said in an apparent response to the Obama administration’s increasingly stern rhetoric against Syria.
Iran has been one of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chief allies. It has sent Hezbollah reinforcements to battle rebel forces and acted as Assad’s chief defender in the Middle East.
As the Obama administration hints that it is gearing up to intervene in Syria following the reported use of chemical weapons, Iranian officials have similarly ramped up their rhetoric.
Sheikholeslam said Assad would immediately respond to a U.S. attack by going after the Jewish state with the full force of his military.
Syria can “heavily attack and raze the occupied territories,” Fars reported him as saying.
Another senior Iranian lawmaker said on Monday that the U.S. military is not prepared to handle an operation in Syria.
Mohammad Esmayeeli, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, claimed Washington is not ready for any new military invasion.
He said that if the Obama administration does decide to launch an attack, Moscow will support Damascus.
Russia has consistently thrown its support behind Assad, providing him with advanced weapons and blocking concrete action at the United Nations.
“The U.S. as well as the western and Arab states and certain regional countries are beating on the drums of war, but they should know that this is not to their benefit,” Esmayeeli was quoted as saying by Fars.
Esmayeeli, in an apparent reference to America’s defense budget cuts, went on to say that the United States is in no condition to wage a war against Syria. If America “starts a war with Syria, the U.S. will not achieve its desirable and needed results,” Esmayeeli said.
Meanwhile, newly installed Iranian President Hassan Rowhani condemned the use of chemical weapons, the apparent tipping point for a U.S. strike on Assad.
Syria expert Tony Badran said that despite Iran’s rhetoric, Assad currently has his hands full with the rebel fighters.
“I’m actually not sure they will retaliate against Israel and risk an escalation they can ill afford,” said Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Of course, anything is possible, and they could conceivably do a repeat of a small-scale, limited Katyusha [and] Grad [rocket] salvo from Lebanon, without anyone taking credit or with some minor faction claiming responsibility in order to avoid a punishing Israeli response.”
It is more likely that smaller pro-Assad factions would strike soft Western targets, Badran said.
“Instead of focusing too much or exclusively on Israel, some groups, such as the PFLP-GC, made a point to say that they would target ‘the interests’ of ‘participants in an aggression against Syria,’ which perhaps suggests softer targets,” Badran said.
These include European targets or even United Nations forces, Badran said
Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin warned that Iran’s pro-Assad rhetoric should be viewed as a window into its thinking about nuclear arms.
“Once again, Iran shows why the international community should never let it even come close to a nuclear weapon,” Rubin said. “If Assad can murder Syrians in their sleep, he and his Iranian backers won’t bat an eye to do the same thing to Jordanians, Israelis, or Turks.”
Such rhetoric “shows why the red line should never be the use of WMD, but its possession in the arsenals of the world’s rogues,” Rubin said.