Tehran warns 'foreign intervention in Syria would be an attack on Iran'
Patriot missile deployment to Turkish border could embroil Iran's 'allies against US and Israel'
Any foreign attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran, a senior Iranian official warned as the first Patriot missile batteries were declared operational along Turkey's tense border with Syria.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's decision to deploy six Patriot missile batteries in Turkish borderlands has rankled the Syrian government and its chief allies, Iran and Russia.
Tehran and Moscow view the move as a provocation that could escalate hostilities and widen the almost two-year-old Syrian conflict. About 400 troops from the US, Germany and the Netherlands are expected to accompany the Patriot batteries.
The comments on Saturday by Ali Akbar Velayati, a top aide to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are among Tehran's strongest public declarations to date of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's major ally in the Arab world.
Velayati noted Syria's crucial role in the "golden resistance chain" against Israel and the US. The Iran-led "resistance" front includes Syria, Lebanon-based Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.
"An attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran and Iran's allies," Velayati told the semi-official Mehr news agency.
Iran's defence minister, Ahmad Vahidi, also warned against foreign intervention in Syria and said Nato's deployment of Patriot missiles could bring "harmful consequences for the Syrian people," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Nato says the truck-mounted Patriots are strictly for defensive purposes, designed to protect Turkey from missiles fired from Syria. Turkish and Nato officials have repeatedly denied that the batteries will be used to create a no-fly zone in Syria that would block Damascus' devastating use of air power against rebel forces.
The Turkish-Syrian frontier, more than 800 kilometres long, has become deeply enveloped in the Syrian conflict. Opposition arms, supplies and personnel have infiltrated Syria from Turkey, enabling the rebels to seize large swathes of territory.
The Turkish military has fired retaliatory artillery rounds into Syria in response to what it says are Syrian shells landing on the Turkish side of the border. But there have been no reports of Syrian missiles landing in Turkish territory. The Patriots are meant to shoot down incoming missiles, not artillery shells.
Iran's public coupling of its security with that of Syria highlights how the Syrian conflict has taken on the character of a regional proxy war. Russia and the US have backed different sides in a reprise of their Cold War roles.
Despite their staunch public support of Assad, Iran's leaders are said to be involved in an intense closed-door debate about how to respond to the crisis in Syria and the possibility that Assad's government could collapse.