In the wake of Israeli airstrikes, sources in Syria are reporting that their government is refusing to allow the Iranian military from using their bases. At the same time, Russia is calling for Iran to leave the region bordering Israel.
Zaman Al Wasl, the Syrian opposition newspaper, cited General Ahmed Balloul, head of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s air force, as saying that their airports are now restricted to Syrian army personnel. He said this comes as a result of reported Israeli airstrikes targeting Iranian forces in Syria. Strikes attributed to Israel against Syrian bases have killed about 40 Iranian military personnel.
On Thursday night, an air base in western Syria was targeted in an airstrike.
A report in Haaretz stated that Israel suspects there are some 2,000 Iranian troops currently in Syria. In addition almost 9,000 Shiite militia from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and another 7,000 members of the Hezbollah terror group are thought to be operating in Syria, according to the report.
This ban against Iranian military forces in Syria comes after a meeting between Assad and President Vladimir Putin last Thursday in which the Russian leader called for all foreign forces to leave Syria.
According to the Syrian media, Putin wanted foreign military forces to vacate Syria in order to allow a political solution to the civil war to proceed. This was reiterated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said at a press conference in Moscow on Monday that only Syrian government troops should have a presence on Syria’s southern border adjacent to Israel.
The area is currently held by rebel groups who oppose Assad, though Iran is trying to establish a military presence there as well.
“Of course, the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces must be carried out on a mutual basis, this should be a two-way street,” Lavrov said. “The result of this work which should continue and is continuing should be a situation when representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic’s army stand at Syria’s border with Israel.”
iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi emphasized that Iran would keep its military forces in Syria at the request of the Syrian regime.
“Nobody can force Iran to do anything; Iran has its own independent policies,” Qasemi was quoted as saying in Zaman Al Wasl, explaining that the Russian request and the Syrian restrictions did not apply to Iranian forces in Syria.
“Those who entered Syria without the permission of the Syrian government are the ones that must leave the country,” the spokesman said.