Joint Russia-Iranian forces operating in Syria warned the Trump administration over the weekend that further American strikes on the war-torn country will unleash a "lethal response," according to official statements aimed at ratcheting up tension with the United States following a string of fresh airstrikes on Syrian strongholds.
Iranian and Russian forces working together in Syria on behalf of embattled leader Bashar al-Assad issued a stern warning to the United States and threatened to take their own action against American military forces.
"We will respond to any aggression powerfully, as Russia and Iran would never allow the U.S. to dominate the world," read a statement issued by the Syria-Iran-Russia Joint Operations Room, a combination of forces operating on behalf of Assad in Syria. The statement was first published in Iran's state-controlled media.
The statement raises the stakes of continued U.S. intervention in Syria, as Iran and Russia become further entrenched in the battle to bolster Assad and keep him in power. Iran and Russia also announced this weekend new military alliances aimed at bolstering Tehran's fleet of amphibious airplanes.
While the Trump administration has not ruled out further military intervention in Syria, it remains unclear how willing the White House will be to isolate further Iranian and Russian forces operating together inside Syria. U.S. coalition forces in nearby Iraq also remain vulnerable to reprisal attacks by the thousands of Iranian forces operating in that country alongside local militias.
The joint Russian-Iranian group in Syria hinted that it believes the United States may be behind the chemical attack that prompted military action.
"We believe that the events [chemical weapons use] in [Syria] have been plotted by certain states and bodies to be used as a pretext to attack Syria," according to the statement, which suggests the United States may have orchestrated the attack in order to justify military intervention.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also condemned the U.S. strike on Sunday, warning the Trump administration about further military action.
"What Americans did was a strategic mistake, and they are repeating the same mistakes done by their predecessors," Khamenei was quoted as saying during a meeting with senior Iranian armed forces commanders in Tehran.
Khamenei also said that U.S. forces in the region were conspiring with anti-Assad terrorist forces.
"Former U.S. officials created ISIL or helped it, and present officials are reinvigorating ISIL and similar groups," Khamenei alleged.
Multiple Iranian military officials adopted a similar stance over the weekend and vowed to continue fighting alongside Russia on behalf of Assad in Syria.
A delegation of more than 220 Iranian lawmakers also moved to condemn the U.S. attack over the weekend and demanded an independent investigation into the measures.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a phone conversation Sunday with Assad, vowed to continue Iranian support for the Syrian president.
"The Iranian people are still standing by the Syrian nation," Rouhani was quoted as telling Assad.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the latest strike by the United States could serve to push Russia and Iran closer in their alliance, which has grown since the landmark Iran nuclear deal.
"In the aftermath of the recent Tomahawk cruise missiles strikes by the U.S., Iranian officials have voiced their condemnation of the U.S. as was expected, but will also seek to capitalize on a recent highly public trip by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Moscow," Ben Taleblu said.
"While not a formal alliance, the Syrian theater is one area where Russian and Iranian interests overlap," he explained. "With the expiration of a United Nations mandated arms ban in 2020, we can expect to see this Russo-Iranian relationship deepen significantly. U.S. policymakers would be wise to exploit whatever cleavages exist in the relationship until then."