Syrian President Bashar al-Assad paid a quick visit to Tehran Sunday to meet with the Supreme Leader and president for the second time in the past decade.
"Today's Syria is not what it was before the war, although there were no destructions then, but the respect and prestige of Syria is greater than before, and everyone sees this country as a power," Khamenei told Assad, according to Iran' state TV.
Khamenei criticized Arab countries for normalization of relations with Israel. “Some leaders of countries that are neighbors to us and you, have relations with the leaders of the Zionist regime and drink coffee together," he said.
"However, people of the same countries take to the streets on Qods (Quds) Day and chant anti-Zionist slogans, and this is the current reality of the region,” he claimed.
Assad also made a rare trip to the UAE in March, which has normalized its relations with Israel, for the first time since 2011. A week after the visit, Iran's foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian took a trip to Damascus during which he said the Islamic Republic welcomed normalization of Syria's relations with Arab countries.
Some Iranians speculated on social media about the possible reasons for the trip, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might be creating a vacuum in Syria and perhaps a redefinition of Iran’s role.
Referring to the slain commander of the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), Ghasem Soleimani, who was killed by American drones in Baghdad in January 2020, Khamenei said Soleimani harbored a "special zeal for Syria" and made sacrifices as he would during Iran's own eight-year war with Iraq (1980-1988).
Soleimani is criticized for involving Iran-backed ground forces in Syria to support Assad and being responsible for the death of tens of thousands of civilians. He supported Russia’s intervention in Syria supplying the ground forces while Moscow used heavy bombing to crush the anti-Assad rebellion.
Khamenei also stressed that the government of President Ebrahim Raisi is "very serious about the issue of Syria" and urged using the opportunity to promote bilateral relations. President Raisi who met separately with the Syrian president said in their meeting that his government's priority was to strengthen strategic ties with Syria.
"Some believe that Iran's support for the "Resistance Axis" is through providing weapons whereas the biggest support and assistance offered by the Islamic Republic is strengthening the spirit of resistance and its continuation," Khamenei said.
Since 2014, the IRGC has deployed brigades of Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi Shiites that it has recruited and trained.
In his meeting with Khamenei, Assad stressed the "strategic relations between Iran and Syria" as a major factor in preventing Israel from "dominating the entire region."
According to Nour News, a website linked with the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, Assad whose rare visit had not been announced, immediately left Tehran for Damascus.
Assad had visited Tehran once before after the civil war in his country in February 2019. The visit became very controversial as his trip was organized and attended by Soleimani, without the knowledge of the government of Raisi's predecessor, President Hassan Rouhani.
In protest to being kept in the dark, Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif who had not even been invited to Khamenei's meeting with Assad resigned from his post. The resignation was not accepted by Rouhani who insisted he should remain in his post.