Russian Raids From Iranian Air Base Finished for Now, Tehran Says
By ARESU EQBALI in Tehran and ASA FITCH in Dubai
Iran announced Monday that Russia had stopped using an Iranian air base to carry out airstrikes in Syria, amid criticism by the country’s defense minister that Moscow had been highhanded in its public handling of the arrangement.
“It was a particular operation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemisaid in declaring that the Russian air raids from Iranian soil had ended after less than a week. “They came, they went and they finished it.”
Mr. Ghasemi didn’t preclude the possibility that the airstrikes from Iranian bases in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad might resume if circumstances require it and Tehran permits it. He didn’t, however, specify what those conditions might be.
The spokesman didn’t say how long the Russian air operation in Iran initially was planned to last. But comments by Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen Hossein Dehghanpublished Monday suggested that Moscow’s public disclosure of the use of an Iranian base—and the tone of the publicity over the basing arrangement—could have altered the timetable.
“Naturally the Russians would like to show that they are a superpower and an influential country and that they are present in all the security developments of the region and the world,” the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency quoted the defense minister as saying.
“There was a showing-off and a discourteous attitude behind the announcement of this news,” he said, adding that the arrangement was for a short period and that there was no written agreement with Russia on the use of the base.
In his remarks on Monday, Mr. Ghasemi said the Russian sorties weren’t meant to be a secret, though the countries had agreed not to disclose them until after the operation had reached certain, unspecified objectives.
Wariness of foreign interference historically has been a politically sensitive issue, and the deployment of Russian warplanes to the airfield in Hamedan was the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use a military base.
There was no public backlash against the operation, and several high-ranking members of Iran’s parliament had played down the significance of the deployment. Still, other lawmakers, including parliament speaker Ali Larijani, reacted with a tone of defensiveness that illustrated the sensitivities involved.
A day after the airstrikes began, Mr. Larijani said cooperation with Russia didn’t mean Iran was handing Moscow ownership of one of its bases. Another lawmaker said Russia was only using the base to refuel.
A third member of parliament, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, asked about the constitutionality of allowing Russia’s bombing missions. Iran’s constitution bans the establishment of foreign military bases on Iranian soil.
The strikes were the latest shift in Moscow’s involvement in Syria’s five-year conflict. Russia began its air campaign in Syria in support of Mr. Assad last September.
The Russian flights from Iran appeared to represent further evidence of strengthening ties between two countries with overlapping regional interests. Iran is Mr. Assad’s biggest military and financial benefactor.
Russia was one of six countries that negotiated a deal with Iran last year under which it agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international economic sanctions.
Amid the nuclear diplomacy, Russia agreed to revive a stalled deal to sell Iran its powerful S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system. A substantial part of that system was delivered this year, according to Iranian officials.
Source: Wall Street Journal