After Russia said that foreign troops should leave Syria when the war ends, Tehran responded by saying no one can force Iran to do anything.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 17 after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad: "We presume that, in connection with the significant victories and success of the Syrian Army in the fight against terrorism, with the onset of a more active part, with the onset of the political process in its more active phase, foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic."
A day later, Alexander Lavrentiev, Putin’s envoy for Syria, left no doubt that Putin’s comment was aimed at the United States, Turkey, Iran, and Hezbollah.
“As long as it is necessary, the risk of terrorism in Syria exists, and the Syrian government wants Iran to continue its support, we will remain in Syria,” Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said on May 21.
“No one can force Iran to do anything. Iran is an independent country and determines its policies in the region and the world based on its national interests,” he added.
Since the civil war started in Syria in 2011, Iran has deployed thousands of troops, many of them Shi’a recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which Tehran considers crucial for its adversarial policies against Israel.
While underlining that the Syrian government has approved Iran’s military presence on its territory, Ghasemi said that “those who came to Syria without permission from the Syrian government and violated its territorial integrity should leave.”
Along with the Syrian regime, Iran considers the military intervention by the United States and its allies in Syria as an act of aggression.
So far, Tehran has admitted that more than 2,000 of its troops -- including several high-ranking members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) -- have been in killed in the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s opponents.
In order to justify its military involvement in Syria for the public, the Iranian regime calls its fighters in Syria the “defenders of the shrine,” claiming its forces are there to protect the Zeinab Shrine, a Shi’ite holy site near Damascus.
Israel accuses Iran of trying to create permanent military bases in Syria. On May 9, Israeli missiles targeted dozens of sites in Syria and around the capital Damascus, claiming they were used by the IRGC.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced later that his country had destroyed almost all of Iran’s significant military infrastructure in Syria.