Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as seen in Damascus, Syria November 14, 2017..
(photo credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Syria’s President Bashar Assad rejected claims that Iranian troops were operating in his country, even as Israel is working with Russia, the United States and Jordan to oust them.
“We do not have Iranian troops. We never had,” Assad told Russia Today on Thursday, in a half-hour interview covering a wide array of issues involving his country. Such claims are “a lie,” said Assad. It’s hard to hide an Iranian army, he said, explaining that if such troops were in his country, he would not be ashamed to say so.
“We have Iranian officers who work with the Syrian army as help, but they do not have troops,” he said.
He rejected claims that Iranians had been killed in recent air strikes against military bases in his country.
Apparently referring to a May 10 attack on Syria that was allegedly done by Israel, Assad said: “We had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers. Not a single Iranian.”
“We always say we have Iranian officers, but they work with our army. We do not have troops,” he said.
Instead, Assad asserted that Israel was not threatening his country because of Iran but because it had a seven-decade history of aggression, and panic had led it to become more overtly hostile.
“Why do they threaten in this way? This is panic. This is a kind of hysterical feeling, because they are losing ‘the dear ones’, Al Nusra and ISIS. That is why Israel [has been] panicking recently, and we understand their feeling,” Assad said.
Assad charged that Israel was working with the terrorists in his country and, like those “mercenaries,” it was going after his country’s air defenses.
Past Israeli air strikes, he said, “destroyed a big part of our air defense.” But his military has recovered from those strikes with the help of the Russians.
“Our air defenses are much stronger than before” and the military is working to further strengthen those defenses, Assad said.
The best way to stop Israeli and other air strikes, he said, “is to improve the air defense. This is the only thing that we can do and we are doing that,” he said.
Assad raised the possibility of conflict with US forces in Syria if they do not withdraw from the country soon.
He said he would negotiate with fighters on the ground backed by Washington, but would reclaim territory they control by force if necessary, whether or not American troops supported them.
Assad also responded sharply to US President Donald Trump’s description of him as an animal, saying “What you say is what you are.”
“The Americans should leave. Somehow, they’re going to leave,” he said, adding that Washington should learn the lesson of its war in Iraq, which lasted longer and was much costlier than anticipated.
“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 said.
In his interview, Assad reiterated the government’s denial of blame for a chemical attack that occurred in the Syrian city of Douma in April. He also rejected claims that his country was in the midst of a civil war.
Assad said the end of the fighting was getting closer with “every victory,” but accused adversaries in the West and the region of trying to obstruct that and “hindering the political process.”Reuters contributed to this report.
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