TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A top Iranian military commander warned Turkey on Saturday against stationing NATO anti-missile systems on its territory, saying such a move risks conflict with Syria.
The remarks by army chief of staff Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi were carried on state TV the day after the Pentagon announced it will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a larger NATO force to protect Turkish territory from potential Syrian missile attacks.
Firouzabadi said the Patriot deployment was aimed at protecting Israel from Iranian missile attacks and inhibit a potential Russian military defense of Syria.
"The wise and the elite in Europe, U.S. and Turkey should dismantle the Patriots and take them away from the region before a fire breaks out," Firouzabadi was quoted as saying. "We are a friend of Turkey, we want security with Turkey, not Turkey being attacked through Syria so that they would want to deploy Patriots there."
"Patriot missiles are a defense line for the Zionists and a result of (the West's) concerns over Iran's missiles and Russia's presence to defend Syria," he said. "Western countries approve the deployment of Patriots on the Syria-Turkey border as they design a world war," he said in a separate quote carried by state TV's website.
Iran and Russia are two of Damascus' key allies. Tehran has provided Assad with military and political backing for years, and has kept up its strong support for the regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
On Thursday, a top Russian diplomat said Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country. But on Friday, the Foreign Ministry issued a convoluted denial, saying its top envoy for Syria was merely characterizing the opinion of the Syrian opposition rather than stating Russia's view.
A number of Syrian shells have landed in Turkish territory since the conflict in the Arab state began in March 2011. Turkey has condemned Assad's regime, supported Syrian rebels and provided shelter to Syrian refugees. Ankara is particularly worried that Assad may get desperate enough to use chemical weapons.
In addition to the American Patriot deployment, Germany and the Netherlands also agreed to provide two batteries of the U.S.-built defense systems and send up to 400 German and 360 Dutch troops to man them, bringing the total number of Patriot batteries slated for Turkey to six.
Also Saturday, Iran's foreign minister said his country won't allow Assad's regime in Syria to fall.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran won't allow Western plans and scenarios aimed at overthrowing the Syrian government to succeed," Ali Akbar Salehi said in comments posted on state TV's website.