If NATO wins in Ukraine, Iran would be its next target, the hardline Kayhan wrote Sunday, reinforcing Tehran’s support for Russia and calling for "pre-emptive defense."

Kayhan’s strong endorsement of Ali Khamenei’s support for Putin during their meeting in Tehran on July 20, was coupled with an editorial in the Revolutionary Guard Javan newspaper Sunday. Javan spoke of “pre-emptive legitimate defense”, without naming Ukraine, but in the context of defeating the West.

Javan argued that when Muslims are endangered it is legitimate to strike pre-emptively and side even with a “despotic ruler”, although it clarified that Putin is not such a leader.

The Kayhan and Javan editorials signal an attempt to justify Iran siding with Russia in the Ukraine war, by offering military assistance, by raising the far-fetched “pre-emptive legitimate defense” argument when neither Russia nor Ukraine have borders with Iran.

The Kayhan editorial was written by its ultra-hardliner editor Hossein Shariatmadari, who enjoys the title of Khemeni’s representative at the flagship conservative newspaper and is seen as reflecting the views of the Supreme Leader.

Shariatmadari described Khamenei’s praise for Putin’s “initiative” to attack Ukraine as “a serious warning to America and its allies” who “are playing with the lion’s tail.” He also wrote that “Iran is one of the next main targets” of NATO, if the Western alliance wins in Ukraine, which would justify a preemptive reaction.

The Iranian Mohajer drone is the most likely candidate to be supplied to Russia

Khamenei also told Putin in Tehran that if the Russian ruler had not taken the initiative, NATO was preparing to start a war in Ukraine in any case.

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine started in February, Iran tried to exhibit neutrality, calling for an end to hostilities, but blaming the West for triggering the war by expanding NATO.

At the same time the 11-month-long negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, JCPOA, came to a halt less than two weeks after the invasion and Tehran has since refused to accept an offer the West had made in December, insisting on more demands that Washington considers “extraneous” to the nuclear issue.

In mid-July the United States warned that Russia was preparing to acquire military drones from Iran to use in the war. A few days later Putin traveled to Tehran, where Khamenei clearly sided with the Kremlin on the Ukraine issue.

Shariatmadari insisted that the Islamic Republic “considers Russia’s confrontation with America and NATO in Ukraine as part of its own security and logically and naturally will support it.”

Javan argued that Iran “is pursuing legitimate pre-emptive defense” and will spare no efforts in neutralizing “the enemy’s evil plans” and weaken Western “hegemony and the establishment of a new world order.”

The invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s confrontation with the West fits perfectly with Khamenei’s anti-Western ideology that has determined Iran’s foreign policy for more than three decades. The United States is often labeled as “World arrogance” by Khamenei and his supporters who have rejoiced at any sign of Chinese-US or Russian-US tensions.

Khamenei in his speeches has constantly called for a tilt toward the East, as Iran’s best strategic path, praising relations with Moscow and Beijing, although both sided with the West in early 2010s to limit Tehran’s nuclear program.

The pro-Russia foreign policy has been criticized by former politicians and pundits in Tehran, who often cite the Islamic Republic’s original motto of “Neither East nor West.”

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