Russian Air Force stations bombers in Iranian air base to strike in Syria

Russian defense officials confirmed on Tuesday that its warplanes are staging from an air base in Iran’s western province of Hamedan to launch sorties against jihadist and rebel groups in Syria. The confirmation follows yesterday’s report by the Arab outlet Al Masdar.

The Russian defense ministry reported that Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 strike fighters took off from Hamedan and hit targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir al Zour today. The Russian defense ministry has also reportedly requested permission from the Iraqi and Iranian governments to use their airspace for launching cruise missiles. These developments facilitate Russian operations in Syria in support of Bashar Assad, an ally of both Moscow and Tehran.

Contrary to extant Western reporting, however, this would not be the first time that Russian bombers have used the base in Hamedan to launch operations in Syria since the Kremlin’s military intervention began in October 2015.

AllSource satellite imagery in December 2015 identified Russian planes at the same military base in the western Iranian province of Hamedan, also known as Shahid Nozheh Air Base (as analyzed here by the American Enterprise Institute). The Russian Air Force, however, has primarily flown its jets from Mozdok military base in southern Russia along a corridor through the Caspian Sea, Iran, and Iraq to strike targets in Syria, as noted by The Aviationist.

Graph posted by Russian outlet on change in Russian bombing runs to Syria.

Graph posted by Russian outlet on change in Russian bombing routes to Syria.

There has been an uptick in high-level meetings between Iranian and Russian officials over the past two months, where the two sides have discussed Syria and increasing bilateral cooperation. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, attended a meeting between the Iranian and Russian defense ministers in Tehran in early June. Shamkhani followed up with a trip to Moscow later that month, where he met with senior Russian defense officials.

It was Shamkhani who confirmed to Iranian media the report of Russian jets using Iran’s airbase. The senior Iranian official hailed Russo-Iranian cooperation against “terrorism” as “strategic,” and noted that Iran would put its “facilities at Russia’s disposal in its war against terrorism.”

As noted by the Associated Press, American officials are said to have been cognizant of such an eventuality, but surprised at Moscow’s recent decision to deploy aircraft in Hamedan. That same report cited a senior Russian lawmaker who framed the move as largely financial. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner, however, said in a press conference that the move would “not necessarily” shut the door for prospective US-Russia military collaboration in Syria. Toner also announced that the deployment of Russian bombers to Iran may violate United Nations Security Council 2231, which endorses the Iran nuclear deal also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and prohibits arms transfers to Iran for five years (Russia has a permanent seat at the Security Council).

The use of the Hamedan air base is a logical step for both Iran and Russia. The Russian air base in Hmeimim, Syria cannot house large Russian bombers. Hamedan has an extensive military complex capable of hosting large bombers safe from immediate military threats.  This substantially trims the flying time of Russian missions by a reported  60 percent, and allows bombers to carry at least double in payloads, thus increasing the tempo and firepower of Russian aerial operations in Syria. Russia may also use Hamedan air base as a transit point for refueling and transferring munitions for bombing raids, while restocking supplies in Russian bases. For its part, Tehran may have sought weapons deals in exchange for Russian access to Hamedan base, according to a senior Moscow-based analyst cited by The Wall Street Journal. Iranian media outlets close to the IRGC reported that the Iranian armed forces had purchased AK-103 assault rifles from Russia. The sale of small arms are not covered under resolution 2231.

The latest developments indicate that Russia will rely more on Iran’s military air base to conduct sorties. It also suggests that Russia and Iran do not plan to draw down their support for the Assad regime in Syria any time soon, and that they are ready to boost bilateral military cooperation in new ways if need be. The war in Syria is at a critical moment now, as pro-regime and opposition forces fight for the control of Aleppo.

Sukhou-34 allegedly in Hamedan, Iran.

Sukhou-34 allegedly in Hamedan, Iran.



Behnam Ben Taleblu is a Senior Iran Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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  • fak says:

    The aircraft pictured are Tu-22M3.

  • Frank Dunn says:

    Russian bombers may be prelude to Russian interceptors in Iran, with these interceptors and advanced Russian ground to air missiles designed to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. If interceptors arrive it will be a sign that Iran continues to develop nukes despite the truly mad agreement that Obama and Kerry agreed to but that neither our Congress nor the Iranian parliament approved. Russian fighters will make it much more difficult for the Israelis AF to launch a preemptive attack.

  • Robert Humplik says:

    The aircraft depicted are TU-22M3, not SU-34

  • Robert says:

    The photos are not SU-34 aircraft. They are Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire Bombers.

  • irebukeu says:

    Why is Russia working with Iran??? Don’t they know that the Iranians are going to drop a nuclear bomb on one of several nations just as soon as they can roll one off the slips. Isn’t that the cruel hoax we have been hearing for the past what? Since at least the late eighties-early nineties at least.
    1.) That Iran already has one, or is only one, two or three years away from finishing a nuclear bomb since the early nineties.
    2.) That as soon as it gets that bomb, within hours perhaps it will attack like it never attacked before. With its nuclear weapon of course. Some actually think Iran will wait until it has multiple warheads before it starts tossing them out like Johnny Appleseed.

    The believers in this “Iran must be destroyed” theory, modern day Cato the Elders of a sort to be fair to them, must be speaking of dangers forward, foreshadowed by the past events. They are easily identifiable by their repetition of the first point-Iran is one or three years away from a bomb. They refuse ideas of peace treaties about anything. The problem is, when you engage these people in conversation they never seem to able to show just how it is they know Iran is about to roll out a nuclear weapon in the form of a mushroom cloud. They want you to infer it, all from a half set of misrepresented facts. When asked why it was Iran was supposed to have a weapon by the early to mid nineties if they were not attacked and destroyed, were subsequently not attacked and destroyed, just how is it that they do not have twenty already, to that there is no answer that does not need an elastic stretching of credulity and imagination.
    The fact that Iran is shortening the turnaround time of Russian bombers is wonderful. More bombs on IS in a shorter time.
    Now all we really need to do is get the westerners out of the way and hope these people will eventually see reason and stop killing each other.
    I see today, this very morning a new media savvy push is being made to get up a western military intervention. Lots of videos recently of wounded women and children done by this or that group, America being but one of the accused. So this mornings national papers- The USA Today, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, all three have the same staged photo of a dirty wounded child looking forward into a camera on the front age ready to greet you. I can only guess it was not done by any sunni group. Must be Bashar or his friends or it would not be in the paper like this is. I have not actually read the story behind the photo but it is an often played tactic. If I am wrong I will eat my words.
    Let Iran and Russia do what needs to be done and lets get out of their way.
    Funny how Russia seems to cooperate or have agreements with Israel, Iraq, Syria,Iran, Turkey while we support Sunni Jihadists that are known derisively as the “moderate beheaders”… What a joke that the term moderate is used at all…oh and always for the sunnis. The Syrian Army can never be seen as a moderate group but are they not when seen against Nusra and IS?
    The pause people have when answering that question should cause other people fright.
    Let’s get out of the intervention business. It’s not for us.

  • irebukeu says:

    In a follow up to my comment on the wounded boy, Omar seems to be his name, it looks like I won’t have to eat my words. Sunni boy-Aleppo- dogs of Bashar-yada yada . Well, Omar is still in the news. It looks like they are milking it for every ad they can get. This Morning, 3 full days after the friday media blitz, has as its front page article Omars sad picture and a story about how he is not the only one.
    Don’t they have a chemical weapon attack story they could switch it up to?


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