Russia, Iran partner to reshape regional geopolitics
Russia’s move to use the airbase at Hamadan is about its designs for the Levant and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Russia and Iran have just pulled off a monumental strategic achievement that is likely to yet again shift the Levantine environment, by agreeing on Moscow’s use of an Iranian airbase. Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani said his country and Moscow are exchanging “capacities and facilities” in the fight against terrorism in Syria.
Russia’s move to use the airbase at Hamadan is about its designs for the Levant and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow is coming to his rescue, especially regarding the ongoing struggle over Aleppo and against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Iran wants to be part of the outcome of this struggle.
Moscow is showing Gulf states yet again that it means business in Syria and Iraq. Last October, Russia’s Caspian Sea Flotilla launched 26 cruise missiles on ISIS targets in Syria. This event showed for the first time Russia’s missile capabilities to the region, and intended to illustrate its prowess to Gulf states, specifically Saudi Arabia. Now, from Iran, Russia is launching airstrikes against ISIS and other extremist groups.
Russia and Iran are preparing for ‘the day after’ in the Levant, as are the United States and its allies in Operation Inherent Resolve. However, if ISIS is defeated in the Levant, how will Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Arabs resolve the Syrian and Iraqi battlefield spoils? How this will play out and affect Iran’s relations with the West may now go through Moscow. That carries serious strategic challenges.
Russia, Iran and Turkey are likely to coordinate on a host of Levantine security issues that are going to challenge the Gulf statesDr. Theodore Karasik
Russia and Iran are cooperating now on the Hamadan airbase to show Moscow’s support for Tehran against Kurdish factions that have upped their violent attacks in Iranian Kurdistan in the past few months. The Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) and the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) are now more aggressive against Tehran, their prowess arising from battles against ISIS in the Levant. These attacks are starting to concern Iran. Enter Russia.
That this Kurdish threat was seen by both Moscow and Tehran as a fundamental problem warranting such a new tightening of bilateral relations is astonishing. The two sides agreed to use the Noje air base, named in honor of US-trained Captain Mohammad Noje, the first Iranian pilot killed in action after the Iranian revolution.
He and his co-pilot died after Kurdish rebels shot down their US-made F-4 fighter in Aug. 1979. The bombing runs launched on Aug. 15, 2016, took place on the 37th anniversary of their deaths. The symbolism rings eloquently.
We are likely to see a long-term basing for Russia in Iran. Moscow may assist Tehran in quelling any Kurdish uprising given the sensitivity of Iran’s northwest region. Perhaps they agreed that any such uprising would be a step too far.
None of the above could be possible without Turkey’s new drive to the East. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meetings with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin helped bring the Kurdish issue to a head. Ankara sees the issue as a primary threat, and getting Erdogan to play ball on Assad’s future is key to this new triad. Now there appears to be a rapprochement between Turkey and Syria.
More significantly, Ankara’s and Tehran’s common concerns about Kurdish issues prompted Iran to quickly come to Erdogan’s defense during the failed coup attempt. Thus Russia, Iran and Turkey are likely to coordinate on a host of Levantine security issues that are going to challenge the Gulf states.
For them, Russia’s move into Iran represents a fundamental change in the regional security environment. Although the Gulf states have their own relationships with Moscow, recent interactions between them illustrate closer security ties. However, Russia’s use of a base in Iran, given developments in Yemen, will reverberate for months to come.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik