Iran Plans to Keep Long-Term Military Presence in Syria

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Dec 19, 2017
Iran Plans to Keep Long-Term Military Presence in Syria

A senior Iranian officials has said that Tehran will keep its military presence in Syria for the long haul, the Iranian media reported. “Based on the request of the legitimate government of Syria, we will continue our presence and advisory assistance until all terrorist groups in this country are destroyed,” said Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. “And claims by the Zionist regime or other countries will also have no effect on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s calculations and decisions in pursuing its national interests and regional security,” he added at a press conference in northwestern Iranian province of Kurdistan on Monday. He further accused the United States and its regional allies of supporting terrorism and separatism in the region.

Comment: Despite the military defeat of the Islamic State, Iranian leaders stress that they will maintain a long-term military presence in Syria.

Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said earlier this month that Iranian forces would remain in Syria “as long as necessary” to continue to assist the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad, Fars News Agency reported. “Iran will continue to help Syria to fight terrorism as long as it is needed,” the top Iranian lawmaker said in an interview with a state-run Russian outlet during his trip to Moscow. “The fight against terrorism has not ended. From the very outset, when Iraq and Syria requested from us, we joined this struggle and we will continue this assistance as long as it is necessary,” he added.  Asked again if Iran would keep its forces inside Syria after ISIS is defeated, Larijani said: “When no one needs our assistance, we will then stop this mission.” He continued: “Has the issue of terrorism and activities of Daesh [ISIS] in the region been resolved? No. We should admit that terrorist forces still exist in Syria and have been moving to other countries.”

In a similar remark on November 30, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Iran was not obliged to abide by any agreement between the United States and Russia about southwestern Syria. “America and Russia cannot make a decision for Iran. We are present in Syria based on a request from the Syrian government and will act upon that request. However, Russia has not requested us to do anything (to pull out Iranian and Iran-led forces from southwestern Syria),” the top Iranian diplomat explained.

Iran has recently started to build a military base inside Syria and expanded the presence of its proxy militia forces in eastern and southern Syria.

The presence of Iranian-led forces in southern Syria has particularly worried Israel. According to media reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep Iranian forces at least 40 kilometers from Syria’s southern borders. Putin reportedly conveyed the message to his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their November 21 meeting in Russia. While it is debatable whether Moscow seriously wants to pressure Tehran to pull out its forces from southern Syria, Zarif’s comments show that, even if Russia is sincere, Tehran may not necessarily accept Russia’s proposal.