Threats of retaliation by Syria's President Bashar Assad and Iran if Syria is attacked should not be taken lightly, Middle East analysts say.
Both Iran and Syria threatened to strike back against Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East if there is a U.S. attack on Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. Hundreds of Syrians in a rebel-held region near Damascus were reported killed in an Aug. 21 chemical attack.
"Iran is a huge threat," Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told USA Today in an article published Wednesday.
Iran's ruling mullahs are Syria's main ally in the region and they consider survival of the Assad regime important, analysts said. Syria provides Iran a port on the Mediterranean Sea and a transit lane from Iran to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah terrorist organization and its cache of weapons are based.
If Iran decides to retaliate against U.S. allies to protect Assad, it could attack not only Israel but also other U.S. allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Iran also could try to block the Strait of Hormuz, which provides passage for about a fifth of the world's petroleum supply, Cohen told USA Today.
"When we keep an eye on Syria we need to keep an eye on the security of shipping, especially the shipping of oil in the straits," Cohen said.
U.S. forces in the region are prepared for such attacks but would not be able to prevent them all right away, said Chris Harmer, an Institute for the Study of War analyst and former naval commander.
Some analysts said Iran's current leadership is unlikely to retaliate.
Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution and a former State Department policy planner under President George W. Bush, says public statements of Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, indicate he "wants to get out of this thing with limited damage to Iran's reputation."
"He clearly understands that if Iran gets into a shooting war with the United States, Europe and international intervention, it's likely to be a quicker path to regime elimination than any other," Maloney told USA Today.