A senior Syrian official on Monday issued a first direct warning that if attacked, his country would retaliate against Israel. Khalaf Muftah, a senior Baath Party official who used to serve as Syria’s assistant information minister, said in a radio interview that Damascus would consider Israel “behind the [Western] aggression and [it] will therefore come under fire.”
“We have strategic weapons and we’re capable of responding,” he said. “Normally the strategic weapons are aimed at Israel.”
Muftah concluded with a warning that “If the US or Israel make the mistake of taking advantage of the chemical issue… the region will go up in flames… that will affect security not only in the region but across the world.”
His words were echoed by Iranian officials, who on Monday shrugged off the threat of a US attack on its close ally Syria, but said that if such a strike were to take place, Israel would suffer.
“[The Americans] are incapable of starting a new war in the region, because of their lacking economic capabilities and their lack of morale,” said Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Republican Guards’ elite Basij force.
“No military attack will be waged against Syria,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a member of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly. “Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”
Israeli military officials have indicated they believe it unlikely that Syria would target Israel if the US or others intervened, but Israel has reportedly been taking security precautions just in case.
“Our hand is always on the pulse,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday. “Our finger is a responsible one and if needed, is on the trigger. We will always know how to protect our citizens and our country against those who come to injure us or try to attack us.”
The Syrian and Iranian statements Monday came as Britain reportedly pushed for US action on Syria in the wake of a horrific alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians outside Damascus. According to a report from the Times of London, British Prime Minister David Cameron wants a strike in the coming days while outrage over the alleged attack is still fresh. British Foreign Minister William Hague said in an interview with the BBC on Monday that action could be taken even without the full support of the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Western nations calling for military action against Syria have no proof the Syrian government is behind the alleged chemical weapons attack.
France, Britain, Israel and some US congressmen have said military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime should be an option if it has used such weapons. A UN team is on the ground investigating the August 21 attack that left hundreds dead.
Lavrov said in a news conference that the countries calling for action have assumed the role of “both investigators and the UN Security Council” in probing the incident.
“They cannot produce evidence, but keep on saying that the ‘red line’ has been crossed and they cannot wait any longer,” he said.
Lavrov likened the situation in Syria to the run-up before the 2003 military operation in Iraq. He warned against military intervention in Syria, saying “the use of force without a sanction of the UN Security Council is a crude violation of the international law.”
Russia’s foreign policy chief also blamed the Syrian opposition for manipulating reports of the attack in order to derail a peace conference on Syria. Lavrov said Russian and US experts were days away from meeting up to arrange a peace conference in Geneva on Syria.
“This hysteria will definitely work against this meeting,” he said.
In Syria, a UN vehicle belonging to a team investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus was shot at by snipers Monday as experts were moving to investigate the incident, which left hundreds dead.
“I don’t have any doubts that it will be said that the firing came from the other side. But all this is moving in one direction and doesn’t inspire optimism,” Lavrov said.