Iran confirms Russia using its air base
In a move that could reverberate across the Middle East, Iran confirmed yesterday that Russia is using its territory to launch airstrikes in Syria, even as a second wave of Moscow's bombers flew out of the Islamic Republic to hit targets in the war-ravaged country.
The development represents a historical rapprochement with Russia that could rile United States-allied Gulf neighbours, strengthen Syrian President Bashar Assad, and impact the war against the Islamic State group
Russia first announced the strikes on Tuesday from near the Iranian city of Hamedan, 175 miles southwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. On Wednesday, Russia's defence ministry said another wave of bombers had departed from Iran, striking targets in eastern Syria.
LARGER BOMB LOAD
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, then gave the first government acknowledgement of the Russian operation. He said the Russians were using Iran's Shahid Nojeh airbase some 30 miles north of Hamedan, a secluded base where Russian warplanes were detected landing late last year.
Boroujerdi said the Russian Tu-22M3 fighter jets landed inside Iran only to refuel under the permission of the country's Supreme National Security Council, a move that allowed them to carry a larger bomb load of more than 20 metric tons.
"There is no stationing of Russian forces in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Boroujerdi added.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the use of Iranian military bases for airstrikes in Syria, rejecting allegations that it could be a violation of UN resolutions prohibiting the supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran.
"In the case we're discussing there has been no supply, sale or transfer of fighter jets to Iran," Lavrov told a news conference. "The Russian air force uses these fighter jets with Iran's approval in order to take part in the counter-terrorism operation" in Syria.
Still, the move heralds even more intense Russian bombardment inside Syria, where Moscow has already been accused of indiscriminate attacks that have killed many civilians.
On Wednesday, presumed Russian or Syrian government airstrikes on the rebel-held city of Idlib in the northwest killed 17 people and wounded at least 30 others, the Civil Defense branch for the province reported. A video posted on the group's website showed rescue workers pulling bodies from wreckage along a heavily damaged street. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the strikes, saying dozens of civilians were killed and wounded.
For Iran, allowing Russia to launch strikes from inside the country is likely to prove unpopular.