Russian warplanes to reportedly use Iranian air base for refueling

Following confirmation that the Russian Air Force will use a military base in Western Iran as a launching pad for strikes in Syria (noted here by The Long War Journal), several senior Iranian officials have publicly defended the legality of the decision as part of a “strategic” framework for cooperation with Russia. They also downplayed concerns about the presence of Russian forces in Iran, which are unprecedented since the end of World War II. A top Iranian lawmaker has said Russia would use the base primarily as a refueling transit point for sorties over Syria.

Khamenei’s top foreign policy advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, described defense ties between Moscow and Tehran as “strategic,” and that Russia’s use of Iran’s airbase was “not unexpected.” He also said Tehran’s outlook is “serious” towards the East, primarily China and Russia. Velayati defended the Iranian and Russian presence in Syria, claiming it came at “the request of the Syrian government,” and then turned to deride the U.S. presence in Syria as “illegal.”

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani faced questions from Iranian lawmakers who expressed anxieties about both the legality and political astuteness of permitting Russian planes into the Hamedan air base.

“Whenever the Islamic Republic was faced with a crisis, both the East and the West were against it,” noted a parliamentarian, implicitly referring to Iran’s national slogan of “neither East nor West, Islamic Republic.”

Article 146 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution expressly prohibits foreign military bases on Iranian soil.

Larijani rejected the lawmaker’s concerns about the constitutionality of Russian warplanes in Hamedan.

“We have not placed any military bases at the discretion of anyone … what the media has said is false,” said the speaker. “We have good cooperation with the Russians and the main reason is the crises created by the West, especially the Americans. Russia has a correct evaluation about the region, and has had good cooperation with us in the past year.”

Senior MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Parliamentary Commission, sought to clarify the Russian use of the Hamedan air base. He insisted to the media that the warplanes use the base to refuel. This is done “within the framework of bilateral and quadrilateral cooperation between Iran, Russia, Syria, and Iraq and per the order of the Supreme National Security Council,” Boroujerdi claimed.

The council is chaired by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of foreign and military policy. Boroujerdi also denied allegations that Russian planes flying out of Hamedan violate the Islamic Republic’s constitution, noting that “it has become neither a Russian base nor are warplanes stationed in Nozheh.” Boroujerdi further repudiated a claim, which the Iranian press attributed to an Israeli-based outlet, that Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems will be stationed in Iran.

In addition to parliamentary skepticism, Iran’s former Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Dr. Afshar Soleimani, has also voiced concerns. In an interview with Fararu, he noted that the Russo-Iranian relationship “cannot be spoken of as a full-fledged strategic relationship.” He also cautioned against Iran walking away empty-handed from the arrangement over Hamedan or the pending Russian request to launch cruise missiles over Iranian airspace. Despite concerns within the political elite, senior officials in Tehran nonetheless appear poised to welcome closer cooperation between Russia and Iran over the war to save the Assad regime in Syria.

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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