Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani has said that Iranian forces will 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.” Larijani also hailed Moscow-Tehran cooperation in Syria and argued that the U.S.-led coalition has not achieved anything in the fight against terrorism.

Comment: Larijani’s remarks come at a time when regional countries, particularly Israel, is increasingly concerned about the presence of Iranian forces and militia proxies in Syria. Israeli aircraft has conducted several strikes inside Syria to target Syrian and Iranian weapons targets recently. According to media reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also 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, Iranian leaders over the past days made it clear that they would not pull out their forces from Syria.

On November 30, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Iran is not obliged to abide by any agreement between the United States and Russia about Iran’s presence in 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. Zarif made the comments in Italy, where he attended the Rome MED-Mediterranean Dialogues.

Over the past six years, Iran has recruited, mobilized, trained, deployed and commanded tens of thousands of militia forces in Syria to help its ally in Damascus. It has also deployed its elite Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force commanders to Syria. U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said over the weekend that "about 80 percent of Assad fighters are Iranian proxies in Syria to establish a land bridge over into the Mediterranean”.