TEHRAN, Iran - United States intervention in Syria would be “a disaster” for the Middle East, Iran’s supreme leader warned on Wednesday as the region braced itself for the fallout from looming military action over a suspected chemical weapons attack.
“The region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian state television.
“If [President Barack Obama] gets stuck in this trap, he will certainly leave behind bad memories of his presidency,” he added. “The intervention of America will be a disaster for the region.”
Shiite Muslim Iran is worried that a pro-Western government or radical Sunni Islamists tied to arch enemy Saudi Arabia could replace its ally in Syria, President Bashar Assad, who is battling a two-and-a-half-year-long rebellion.
On Wednesday, U.N. chemical weapons experts looking into a suspected gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus made a second trip over the front line to take samples. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, pleaded for them to be given time to complete their mission.
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As Khamenei spoke, Israel announced a call-up of security force reservists and stepped up its missile defenses as a precaution against possible retaliatory attacks should the United States or its allies carry out threatened military strikes on Syria.
A short-range Iron Dome missile defense shield was moved towards its northern border and the alert level was raised on its long-range Arrow II system, Israeli news site Ynet reported.
“There is no reason to change daily routines,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “At the same time, we are prepared for any scenario. The IDF is ready to defend against any threat and to respond strongly against any attempt to harm Israeli citizens."
Israel fears it could be targeted by Syria's Lebanese militia ally, Hezbollah, or by Damascus itself if air strikes go ahead.
Netanyahu said on Tuesday that his country wanted to keep out of the Syrian crisis but would "respond forcefully" to any attempt to attack it, Reuters reported.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv. Alastair Jameson reported from London.
Reuters contributed to this report.