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Russia and the Iranian base

Those who know the hierarchy of decision-making in Iran know that major decisions are above parliament’s authority

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Confusion surrounding the announcement of a deal in which Iran grants Russia use of the Hamadan airbase is unworthy of serious discussion. News agencies have been preoccupied with it, with some reports that Iran’s parliament has objected to the agreement and obstructed it. This too is not worth discussing, as the parliament cannot prevent such deals, and what is being said is just rubbish.

Those who know the hierarchy of decision-making in Iran know that major decisions are above parliament’s authority, and the only man who can prevent them is Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei. Iran’s parliament is like most Middle Eastern parliaments – it is political decor.

Ali Shamkhani – secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, who is responsible for relations with Russia – only apologized for his statements underestimating the significance of parliament’s objection because he embarrassed the political regime when he told the truth.

He apologized after parliament speaker Ali Larijani brought his attention to “ethics of governance.” Shamkhani said he did not mean to insult the legislative council. The dispute is a storm in a teacup, and parliament is not the party that obstructed the strategic agreement with Moscow.

If we assume reports that Russia stopped using the airbase are true, what happened? Larijani said Russia stopped using the airbase and ended its military activity above Iranian soil. This is easy to confirm or deny, as the Americans monitor the base and will publish photos of Russian bombers if they are still there in the next few weeks, as they did when Moscow said it withdrew most of its air force from Syria but actually increased its number.

If it is confirmed that Russia stopped using the airbase, this is a significant positive transformation. However, if footage shows an increase in Russian military forces in Iran, the issue may be more dangerous than we think.

If it is true that Russia backed down from the strategic agreement, it is most probably because it felt it would be a mistake to expand relations into an alliance with Tehran

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Arab bloc

If it is true that Russia backed down from the strategic agreement, it is most probably because it felt it would be a mistake to expand relations into an alliance with Tehran. A big bloc of Arab governments has formed due to US President Barack Obama’s negative policies, and is headed toward enhancing relations with Moscow.

This bloc includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan. All these countries headed east after Obama decided to reconcile with Iran at the expense of their security and interests. I did not mention other Arab countries because their relations with Russia were good before that.

This bloc is trying to balance relations with Tehran. Although most countries in the bloc disagree with Russia in its war in Syria, and are against its ties with Iran, they allow a margin of difference that is necessary in this complicated atmosphere of international relations.

However, if Moscow becomes a major military ally of Iran, bloc members are expected to reduce their rapprochement and reconsider their calculations and relations. The political formula is simple: those who approach Iran move away from Arabs.

Iranian calculations

Iran has its calculations too. It has previously used ties with Moscow as a means to convince the Americans of the importance of its regional role. So why are the Iranians concerned about Washington more than Moscow, which supported them during the phase of Western sanctions?

Because they learnt that it is impossible to develop their oil-production capabilities without Western technology, they cannot stop economic collapse without making dollar transactions – which they are prohibited from doing – and cannot expand politically, militarily and regionally without neutralizing the Americans. This explains Iran’s contradiction in its relations with the two axes.

Closer Russian-Iranian ties will lead the Arab bloc to return to Washington, and will increase regional unrest at a time when Russian enthusiasm here may only aim to serve a bigger game in their major areas of influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 25, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.