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In its nexus with Russia, Iran violates its own Constitution

No foreign power has used Iran’s soil and territories as a base for military operations since the second World War

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

Iran Constitution's article 146 stipulates “The establishment of any kind of foreign military base in Iran, even for peaceful purposes, is forbidden.”

Nevertheless, Iranian leaders appear to have violated this crucial article of the Constitution the Islamic Republic. No foreign power has used Iran’s soil and territories as a base for military operations since the second World War. But, this week, Russia revealed that it has used Iran’s territory, Hamadan air base, as a military base to bomb Syria.

According to Reuters, video footage and images were released by Russia’s Defense Ministry on August 18, 2016. These images show a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber that is based at Iran’s Hamadan air base, dropping bombs in Syria.

Iranian leaders immediately responded with fury, first denying the move, and later issuing statements chiding Russia for publicizing this military deal. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan characterized Moscow’s move as boasting and a “betrayal of trust.”

What does this military deal mean? And more importantly, why has Iran made this historic move of allowing a foreign power to use its bases, why did Iran want to keep it confidential and why did Russia made it public?

Iran is reaping the economic benefits of dealing with the West, but when it comes to the underlying pillars of its domestic and foreign policy, Tehran is not going to rearrange its alliances or make fundamental shifts

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

IRGC desperate to keep Assad in power

Iranian leaders attempted to keep this agreement confidential because one of the core revolutionary values and principles of the Islamic Republic has been independence, self-reliance, and opposition to interference of foreign powers in Iran including Eastern or Western powers. One of the well-known mottos of the Islamic Republic is, “Neither the East, nor the West, but only the Islamic Republic”.

But Iranian leaders have been desperate during the recent battles in Aleppo to defeat the opposition groups. Whenever Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sense that the Syrian rebel or opposition groups are making major advances, or that Assad’s hold-on-power and control over major cities is being threatened, Tehran has manifested the trend of immediately turning to Russia.

For example, in mid-2015, when Assad’s army and the Quds Force experienced setbacks, mainly due to the rise of ISIS and the rebel groups’ advancements, this issue propelled Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, to visit Putin and ask for military help. The Islamic Republic pushed for Russia’s military assistance and involvement in Syria.

Russia followed up with airstrikes while Iran put boots on the ground and made territorial advances. In other words, the increasing Russian airstrikes are coordinated with the rising deployment of IRGC fighters on the ground.

Russia using Iran as a puppet

Iran needs Assad more than Russia does and Iran has used the Russian air forces to keep Assad in power. But this time Russia decided to score points and use Iran. Russia seems to have utilized Iran’s military request to project Moscow’s power to the West, regional countries, and to project Moscow’s increasing influence in the Middle East.

Being able to use Iran’s base is indeed a fundamental milestone in Russia’s foreign policy and it is considered a critical success for Putin. Russia was not going to be silent about this foreign policy achievement. Moscow needed to make such a great strategic and tactical military move public.

For Moscow, the fact that Russia has set military feet in Iran for the first time since 1917, is an indication of the notion that Russia remains the indispensable global power. Putin is sending a message to the West and the Russian people that Moscow is still the superpower in the same manner that the Soviet Union was.

Russia is also sending several messages to other Middle Eastern countries that Moscow is a more reliable partner than the United States; that Moscow comes to the assistance of its allies and friends by cooperating with regional nations, by using advanced military equipment, and by launching military strikes to defeat whoever endangers the power of its allies.

Putin is also signaling to other countries in the region that if Iran has allowed Russian military to use it territories, other countries should not be concerned about doing the same and they can allow Russia assist them. Moscow is telling other regional powers that they can trust Russia as well; and that Russia is geographically and strategically positioned in better place than the United States to conduct military operations in their interests.

That is why Russian leaders, despite Iranian leaders objection, immediately depicted this military operation as a successful one. “The Russian military aircraft involved in launching airstrikes from the Iranian Hamadan base against terrorist sites in Syria successfully accomplished the tasks they had set out to complete…All aircraft involved in this operation are now on Russian territory,” Russian Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

Obama silent as usual

Finally, as usual, President Obama and his administration do not want to deal with this issue in order not to criticize Iran. They deny that they even knew anything about this military action.

This tactical military deal clearly scuttles President Obama and the West’s argument that Iran is moving closer to the West and opening up politically to the West. Iran is reaping the economic benefits of dealing with the West, but when it comes to the underlying pillars of its domestic and foreign policy, Tehran is not going to rearrange its alliances or make fundamental shifts. In fact, Iran has moved closer to Russia and China geopolitically and strategically speaking.

Finally, although Iran can also send a message to its rivals that Russia is still with Iran rather than with them, the revelation of this military deal by Moscow is a blow to the Islamic Republic’s nationalistic slogan of “independence”.

But, since Iran cannot afford to lose Assad, its staunchest ally, Tehran is doing everything it can, even violating its own Constitution and ideals – by allowing foreign countries use its soil for military purposes – in order to keep Assad in power.

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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and Harvard University scholar, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at Dr.rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu, @Dr_Rafizadeh.

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