TEHRAN, Iran — Iran will support Syria "until the end" in the face of possible U.S.-led military strikes, the chief of Iran's elite Quds Force unit was quoted Thursday by the media as saying.
Iran is Syria's main regional ally and some analysts believe a wider goal of President Barack Obama's determination to launch a strike against the Damascus regime is to blunt Tehran's growing regional influence and any consequent threat to Washington ally Israel.
"The aim of the United States is not to protect human rights . . . but to destroy the front of resistance [against Israel]," Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was quoted as saying.
"We will support Syria to the end," he added in a speech to the Assembly of Experts, the body that supervises the work of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He did not elaborate on the nature of the support and Iran has constantly denied allegations by Western powers that it has sent military forces to prop up President Bashar Assad's embattled regime.
A year ago, the chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said that members of the Quds Force foreign operations unit were in Syria but only to provide Assad's government with "counsel and advice."
Soleimani accused the United States of using its claims that Syria's forces had unleashed chemical weapons on civilians last month as a "pretext" to try to topple Assad's regime.
Iran's Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan, meanwhile, ruled out sending troops or weapons to Syria.
"The Syrians do not need us to provide them with weapons because they have a defensive anti-aircraft system themselves," he was cited in the local media as saying.
President Hassan Rowhani said Iran will do "everything to prevent" an attack on the Syrian regime, according to extracts from statements he made before the Assembly of Experts published in the media.
"Any action against Syria is against the interests of the region but also against the friends of the United States in this region," he said. "Such action will help nobody."
The U.S., France, and other countries accuse Assad's forces of launching chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, which they say killed hundreds.
Obama is seeking congressional backing as well as broader international support for punitive strikes on Assad's regime.
Iran has warned that any military action against Syria risks sparking a broader regional conflagration.
© AFP 2013