Iran signaled that it has no intention of leaving Syria, even after the war comes to an end. The country's defense minister said Iran would have a big role in the reconstruction process. This statement came amid protests over economic instability, the sacking of the economy minister by lawmakers and Israel's growing concerns.
Iran's Tasnim News Agency reported Tuesday that Iran and Syria had signed a defense agreement. Iran's Defense Minister Amir Hatami said Iran would have "presence, participation and assistance," in the reconstruction process and that "no third party" would decide the two countries' relations. "Syria is at a very, very important juncture. It is passing through a critical stage and it is entering a very important stage of reconstruction," he said. Meeting Bashar Assad and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub, Hatami said "Iran will spare no effort to maintain Syria's territorial integrity, because security in the country will help [improve] regional stability."
Although the details of the agreement are not public, it is important to show that Iran still aims to remain in Syria. Yet, Russia, which is the biggest backer of the Syrian regime, is reluctant to see Iranian troops and Iran-backed militias in the country. Last May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said only Syrian troops needed to be near Israeli territories, implying that Iranian militias had to stay away. "It should only be the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic that stand on the Syrian border with Israel," he said, adding, "Of course, the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces must be carried out on a reciprocal basis; however, it must be a two-way street."
Russia's main worry with Iran is Israel's growing concern over Iranian presence. Since the war broke out in 2011, Israel has been silently carrying out aerial strikes in Syria, mainly targeting the regime and Iranian bases. This time, Israel seems very determined to erase Iranian presence, as it has openly informed media about their aerial operations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would attack Iran's "proxies" wherever they are in Syria. Moreover, Israeli media claimed that the Israeli army had been increasing its military presence around the Golan Heights. At the same time, Iran faces deep economic problems due to high inflation, the devaluation of its currency and renewed U.S. sanctions. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians are attending demonstrations to condemn their government's acts in Syria and elsewhere in the region along with their economic concerns. Iran's Economy Minister Masoud Karbasian was sacked by the Parliament with a no-confidence vote. Karbasian lost the vote of confidence by 137 votes to 121 with two abstentions. After the U.S. imposed sanctions and vowed to impose more, especially on the oil trade, Iran's economy has deteriorated. Many major European firms have declared that they have left the Iranian market. Despite Russia's concerns, Israel's increasing aggression and the economic crisis, Iran continues to pledge full support to the regime and seeks to remain in the country.