(Bloomberg) --

Iran has spent between $20 billion and $30 billion in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad and fight Islamic State, a lawmaker told the semi-official Etemad newspaper, in a rare estimate by a government insider.

Iran “must get this money back from Syria,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, an outgoing member of parliament who was on the chamber’s national security and foreign policy commission, said in an interview published Wednesday.

By comparison, Iran’s entire defense budget last year came to some 700 trillion riyals, or $16.6 billion.

The Islamic Republic has sent its own troops into Syria and has backed other forces there, most prominently the Lebanese Hezbollah, since hostilities broke out in 2011.

It has also won leverage over Assad through financial assistance and investments. The economic and military aid has taken a toll on Iran’s finances as its economy has been battered by U.S. and other international sanctions.

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