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Why Russia Stopped Using an Iranian Airbase to Bomb Targets in Syria


NEWS BRIEF We told you last week about an announcement from Russia’s defense ministry, marking a new phase in Moscow’s involvement in the Syrian civil war: Tu-22M3 bombers and Su-34 fighters took off from Iran’s Hamdan airbase to strike ISIS targets inside Syria.

The Iranians apparently were not pleased with the publicity surrounding the announcement—with the country’s foreign minister calling the disclosure “kind of show-off and ungentlemanly.” Later Monday, Bahram Ghasemi, the foreign ministry spokesman, said the use of the airbase was temporary. Russia’s mission, he said, “is finished, for now,” adding Russia “has no base in Iran.”

Russia has not yet publicly commented on the matter.

During last week’s announcement, Russian officials said use of the Hamdan airbase would give its military more options from which to strike ISIS and other targets in Syria. Russian planes also take off from Syria’s Hmeymim base. As we reported last week:

Russia entered the Syrian civil war late last year on the side of Bashar al-Assad, the country’s president who is fighting several rebel groups that range in ideology from moderate to Islamist. ISIS is one of those groups. Although Russia is in Syria ostensibly to strike ISIS and groups like it, its fighter jets have also targeted other groups, including Western-backed ones, that are fighting Assad.

Iran is a key ally of Assad and has sent fighters to take part in the civil war. Assad is also supported by militants from Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militant group.

Although Iran and Russia are ostensibly on the same side of the Syrian civil war, Russia’s use of Iranian territory is a controversial one. Although some officials praised cooperation between the two countries, lawmakers complained the use of the Hamdan airbase violated the prohibition in Iran’s constitution of foreign militaries on its territory.