Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (R) and, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu shake hands during a meeting in Tehran, capital city of Iran, on June 09, 2016.
Diplomatic, intelligence, technical and operational cooperation between Iran and Russia to contain the Syrian crisis as well as spread of terrorism in the region has been going on in the past five years. In the most recent stage of this cooperation, Russia used Nojeh airbase in northwestern Iran, Hamedan province, to bomb terrorists’ positions across Syria. In this regard, some Iranian officials referred to the Constitution’s principles, saying that putting any military bases inside the country at foreign troops’ disposal is forbidden.
Additionally, the West has embarked on an irrational media hype campaign, claiming that Russia's use of the airbase is in breach of UN Security Council resolution 2231. The resolution prohibits the supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran. This is while that no aircraft or supplies had been transferred to Tehran.
The operation was carried out in accordance with terms of international conventions on anti-terrorism as well as the UN Security Council’s resolutions on international cooperation to curb terrorism. Certain media outlets are also reporting that Russian strikes on terrorists’ positions in Syria could bring about humanitarian catastrophe. This is while that the same media remained silent when NATO was bombing Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. It should not be forgotten that Russia is carrying out the airstrikes against the militant groups based on an official request from the Syrian government.
It should be also noted that firstly, Iran has not put any military base at the disposal of Russia. In fact, the decision to fly off Russian warplanes from Iran is just an example of regional cooperation between Tehran and Moscow against a common threat which, as stipulated in the Constitution, Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) should take care of it. Secondly, the cooperation is limited and for a defined-period of time. Thirdly, such cooperation is not surprising as the same took place between Iran, Russia, Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries for restoration of stability and security in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. At the time, Iran used communication and transport routes in the region to support the Afghan Northern Alliance.
This cooperation has two aspects, namely operational and strategic. Operationally speaking, the deployment would allow the Russian Air Force to cut flight times by 60 percent and increase bombing payloads as terrorists’ positions are closer to Iran than Russia. Strategically speaking, military cooperation between Iran and Russia in such operations in the Middle East is a vital issue and can play a crucial role in expanding Tehran-Moscow relations and shaping the future of the Middle East.
The issue has a broader significance too beyond the cooperation as Moscow-Ankara ties have witnessed a major change in the recent month and the two countries have entered into serious talks on regional issues. The same change is expected to be seen in Tehran-Ankara relations as reports suggest that a trilateral meeting between presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey is likely to happen not in the too distant future.
Therefore, the military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow can be looked at in a regional context, a strategic nature and in line with restoration of stability and security to the region. A cooperation which has been limited but gradual in the past five years and now, by using the Nojeh base, has turned into a bridge between Iran, Russia and Turkey to help restore stability and security to the crisis-hit region.
Jahangir Karami, an associate professor at the University of Tehran, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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