Iran gives mixed signals over Russian claims of using its airbases

Iran gives mixed signals over Russian claims of using its airbases
Sukhoi 34 jet.
By bne IntelliNews August 23, 2016

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Bahram Ghasemi, said on August 22 that Russian Air Force flights from the Hamedan airbase used for operations over Syria “were over for now”, suggesting unease at how the issue has been handled and perhaps a significant change in how the Islamic Republic intends to work militarily with foreign powers in future.

On August 16, Russia’s defence ministry announced – ahead of the Iranians – that its air force was using the western Iranian airbase for operations conducted by its Tupolov 22M3 long-range bombers, as well as the Shahid Nojeh Airbase for its Sukhoi 34 fighter jets.

But Russia’s declaration that it was using Iranian territory appeared to irk Defence Minister Hossein Deghan, who criticised Russia for publicising the raids, saying it had exhibited a "show-off" attitude. Experts believe that Iran would have preferred the entire exercise was not even public knowledge.

Accordingly, another significant voice from Iran’s power apparatus, Ali Larijani, who serves as the speaker of the country’s parliament, said Iran hasn’t handed over any airbase for the Russians to use and they are only using the runway to refuel their jets. He hinted, though, that Russia is continuing to use the airbase, Tasnim News Agency reported on August 23.

The increase in Russian jets hitting Syrian targets in the past week comes as the battle for the war-torn country’s second largest city Aleppo intensifies as forces of Bashar al-Assad fight to wrest control of the city from different anti-government groups. Syria has been gripped by civil war since March 2011, with various terrorist groups, including so-called Islamic State (Da'esh), currently controlling parts of it.

The decision by Iran to allow its territory to be used, albeit temporarily, as a base for Russian jets to enter Syrian airspace was regarded as a sign of the country’s growing military cooperation with Russia. Earlier in August, Iran’s army and Revolutionary Guards Army Corps took part in Russia’s War Games event in south-western Russia, after which Iranian Major General Vali Madani and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu discussed the possibility of Iran and Russia conducting joint military drills in the near future.