Iran's army chief of staff warned NATO
on Saturday that stationing Patriot
anti-missile batteries on Turkey's border with Syria
was setting the stage for world war.
General Hassan Firouzabadi, whose country has been a staunch supporter of President Bashar Assad
throughout the 21-month uprising against his rule, called on the Western military alliance to reverse its decision to deploy the defense system.
"Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war," Firouzabadi said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency. "They are making plans for a world war and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself."
Despite the warning, Firouzabadi did not threaten any action against Turkey in his speech to senior commanders at the National Defense University in Tehran. "We are Turkey's friend and we want security for Turkey," he said.
NATO's US commander said on Friday the alliance was deploying the anti-missile system along Syria's northern frontier because Assad's forces had fired Scud missiles that landed near Turkish territory.
Damascus denies firing the long-range, Soviet-built rockets. But, forced on the defensive by mainly Sunni Muslim rebels, Syria's 47-year-old Alawite president has resorted increasingly to air strikes and artillery to stem their advances.
NATO military commander Admiral James Stavridis said a handful of Scud missiles were launched inside Syria in recent days towards opposition targets and "several landed fairly close to the Turkish border, which is very worrisome".
It was not clear how close they came. Turkey, a NATO member once friendly toward Assad but now among the main allies of the rebels, has complained for months of artillery and gunfire across the border, some of which has caused deaths. It sought the installation of missile defenses some weeks ago.
"Syria is clearly a chaotic and dangerous situation, but we have an absolute obligation to defend the borders of the alliance from any threat emanating from that troubled state," Stavridis wrote in a blog on Friday.
Batteries of US-made Patriot missiles, designed to shoot down the likes of the Scuds popularly associated with Iraq's 1991 Gulf War under Saddam Hussein, are about to be deployed by the US, German and Dutch armies, each of which is sending up to 400 troops to operate and protect the rocket systems.
Damascus has accused Western powers of backing what it portrays as a Sunni Islamist "terrorist" campaign against it and says Washington and Europe have publicly voiced concerns of late that Assad's forces might resort to chemical weapons solely as a pretext for preparing a possible military intervention.
In contrast to NATO's air campaign in support of Libya's successful revolt last year against Muammar Gaddafi, Western powers have shied away from intervention in Syria. They have cited the greater size and ethnic and religious complexity of a major Arab state at the heart of the Middle East – but have also lacked UN approval due to Russia's support for Assad.
Forty thousand people have now been killed in what has become the most protracted and destructive of the Arab revolts.