- Russian bombers used Iranian base to hit targets in Syria
- Iranian Defense Minister criticizes announcement of presence
Russia has stopped using an airbase in Iran to stage bombing raids against militants in Syria, shortly after it was accused of “showing off” by the Iranian Defense Minister for announcing its presence there.
Russia was “inconsiderate” and “keen to show off as a superpower” by disclosing its use of the Hamadan base for the missions, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said on state-run Channel 2 television late Sunday. “They also have a desire to show themselves to be effective in the theater of operations in Syria, in order to be able to negotiate with the Americans and guarantee themselves a stake in Syria’s political future,” he said.
Aircraft involved in operations from Iran have returned to Russia, Igor Konashenkov, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement Monday. Further use of the Hamadan base will occur on the basis of mutual agreements with Iranian officials for combating terrorism, and will also depend on the situation in Syria, he said.
The abrupt halt to the Russian presence in Iran casts doubt on prospects for deeper military cooperation between the two biggest backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian Tu-22M3 and Su-34 bombers flew on three occasions from the Iranian base to attack Islamic State targets and the former Nusra Front, now called Jabhat Fath al-Sham, in Syria’s Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib provinces last week. It was the first time that Iran had allowed its territory to be used by a foreign military power since World War II.
Amid complaints in Iran’s parliament that the Russian presence was unconstitutional, Iranian officials said that the jets used the base only to refuel and were not stationed there.
Russia’s use of the base “was a task that was performed and that has finished for now,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Monday, according to the Tasnim news agency.
The bombers were supported by fighter jets from Syria’s Hmeimeem base that Russia has used since September to carry out air strikes in support of Assad against opposition groups. While the U.S. and Europe have repeatedly called for Assad’s ouster, Russia and Iran are backing him in the civil war that has killed more than 280,000 people and displaced millions.