Iran to US: Syria strikes will ignite wave of sectarian violence across Mideast

"The region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted," Khamenei reportedly told the state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). 

Iran, along with Russia, has been the Assad regime's strongest ally in the international community. 

Khamenei's comments echo those of Iranian parliament member Mansur Haqiqatpur, who said Wednesday that U.S. attacks in Syria would trigger counterstrikes against Israel. 

“In case of a U.S. military strike against Syria, the flames of outrage of the region’s revolutionaries will point toward the Zionist regime,” Haqiqatpur told the semiofficial Fars news agency on Wednesday. 

Iranian warnings come as U.S. forces are preparing for a series of missile strikes against military targets inside Syria. 

The planned American and allied strikes are in retaliation to the reported use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in the country's years-long civil war. 

U.S. warships are already in station in the Mediterranean, off the Syrian coastline, awaiting orders from Washington to begin missile strikes. 

London has begun moving fighter jets and cargo aircraft to the United Kingdom's massive air base in Cyprus, off the Syrian coast, to support the coming American offensive. 

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday that the United States was “ready to go” if orders came from President Obama to launch military strikes. 

For its part, Tehran "does not tolerate" the use of chemical weapons, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the ISNA on Wednesday. 

Thousands of Iranians were massacred when former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched chemical weapons against those forces during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. 

That said, "It also does not tolerate a group of countries giving themselves the permission to wage a campaign in the region," Zarif said. 

"This fire of sectarianism, tribal conflicts, and conflicts that ... are exacerbated for short-term interests cannot be restricted to one region," he added. 

"If [Obama] gets stuck in this trap, he will certainly leave behind bad memories of his presidency," according to Zarif. 

But sectarian tensions are already beginning to bubble over in the wake of the chemical attacks and anticipated U.S. response. 

Jabhat al-Nusra, the main al Qaeda faction in Syria, is vowing wide-scale attacks against Alawite Muslims in the country in retaliation for the chemical strikes.

The Assad family is part of the country's ruling Alawite population, centered in Western Syria. 

If the Sunni-led terror group delivers on those threats on Syrian Alawites, the attacks could trigger a wave of sectarian violence and escalate the ongoing civil war into a regional conflict. 

Top Pentagon officials have recently cited the growing threat of sectarian violence in Syria as a main reason to avoid U.S. military action in the country. 

"The conflict in Syria is intensifying and becoming more sectarian. The possibilities of state fragmentation are increasing, as are the risks of extremism and proliferation," Hagel said during a speech in May. 

"The old order in the Middle East is disappearing, and what will replace it remains unknown. There will continue to be instability in the region ... and we all must adjust accordingly," he said at the time.