The conflict in Syria is a struggle between the United States and Iran whose outcome will decide whether the Middle East follows the path of an Iran-inspired Islamic movement or US influence, a top Iranian official said on Saturday.
"Today, we are in the final with the United States in Syria," Mohsen Rezaie, secretary of the Expediency Council that advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
"If Syria falls into the hands of the Americans, the Islamic Awakening movement (Iran's term for the Arab Spring) will become American. But if Syria maintains its policies, the Islamic Awakening will take root in Islam," said Rezaie, who used to lead Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards.
Khamenei has portrayed the series of Arab revolts since late 2010 as inspired by Iran's own 1979 Islamic revolution, which overthrew a US-allied monarchy.
Iran, though, has sought to depict the Syrian conflict as apart, saying it is an external aggression fomented by the United States and its Gulf allies rather than a popular uprising in the mould of Tunisia, Egypt or Libya.
Iran and the United States accuse each other of giving military support to the opposing sides in Syria's bloody, 17-month conflict, raising the spectre of a vicious proxy war between the longtime enemies.
The Islamic republic is a staunch ally of Syria's regime, and has vowed to do everything to defend Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power. It denies, however, sending fighting forces or arms to Syria.
"If Syria remains independent and doesn't fall into the hands of the Americans and the (Western) occupiers, the Islamic Awakening in the region will turn towards Islamism," Rezaie was quoted as saying.
He added that Syria was part of a "golden belt" in the Middle East that the United States wanted to dominate. The other links in the belt, he said, were Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
US officials allege that the Revolutionary Guards' elite special operations unit, the Quds Force, was behind numerous attacks on US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, which America invaded in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
General Hassan Firouzabadi, the head of Iran's armed forces joint chiefs of staff, was quoted by the Revolutionary Guards' website Sepahnews as renewing Iran's accusation that the United States was backing Al-Qaeda cells in the Muslim world.
"Bolstering Al-Qaeda and the Takfiris (extremist Salafist groups) to conduct a civil war in Syria and massacre Syrians only reinforces these groups, which will use their experience to deal even more severe blows to the Westerners," he said.
Iran's animosity towards the United States has sharpened this year following the application of US and EU economic sanctions crippling its vital oil exports.