Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has denied the presence of the Iranian military in the country and insisted that the only role the Iranians have played is as "advisers".
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Russian media outlet RT today, Al-Assad made a series of revelations regarding the Syrian conflict, among them that "we do not have Iranian troops. We never had, and you cannot hide it." He added the justification that "like we invited the Russians, we could have invited the Iranians."
Addressing recent Israeli airstrikes on Iranian bases in Syria, Al-Assad asserted that "not a single Iranian" but rather "tens of Syrian martyrs" were killed, and claims that the initial reports of Iranian soldiers being killed were "a lie".
The comments in the interview come a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that foreign militias and military forces should leave Syria, echoing his views earlier in the week that only Syrian troops should be stationed in south-western Syria in the contested opposition-held Daraa province.
Al-Assad also warned the West about the consequences of military involvement and intervention in Syria, using the example of Iraq.
They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore.
He also mentioned that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Kurdish-dominated main opposition force which controls large parts of northern and eastern Syria, which the regime is beginning to negotiate with. The negotiation, he said, "is the first option. If not, we're going to resort to…liberating those areas by force."
Iran's role in Syria has been a controversial factor throughout the seven-year conflict, drawing criticism and even military reactions from neighbours such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Throughout the last few years, Israel has been conducting airstrikes against what it claims are Iranian military facilities and bases in Syria on a regular basis, the latest having been conducted earlier in May.
Several Iranian soldiers have been killed as a result of the airstrikes and Iran's plan to clear a land corridor up through Syria to link with Hezbollah in Lebanon is being hindered. Iran's military presence in Syria, in the form of troops and logistics, has been undeniable and it has proven a prominent ally of the Assad regime throughout the Syrian conflict.