Yesterday we reported on photos and reports emerging out of Iran depicting Russian Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers and IL-76 tanker-transports descending onto Hameden Air Base, in the western expanse of that country. This was not just a pit stop. As predicted, the bombers were part of a forward basing scheme that ushers in a whole new realm of Russian-Iranian military cooperation. This deployment has since been confirmed by the Russian Ministry of Defense, and the bombers have already flown their first combat mission, passing over Iraq and into Syria.
The bombers hit targets in and around the besieged eastern Syrian city of Deir-ez-Zor. They were accompanied by Russian Su-30 and Su-35 who flew their portion of the mission out of Russia’s air base outpost south of the Syrian port city of Latakia. Here is supposed footage from the mission:
The deployment is part of a signed military agreement between Russia and Iran to station an unknown amount of aircraft at Hamadan Air Base. It may also include the sharing of other facilities. Iranian news outlet IRNA said Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council, stated the following regarding the arrangement: “Iran and Russia enjoy strategic cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Syria and share their facilities and capacities to this end.”
Reports also state that Russia is requesting overflight permission for more Kalibr cruise missiles fired from the Caspian Sea by its heavily armed missile boats stationed there. A tactic that was odd to begin with, and even more so now that Russia has heavy bombers positioned in-theater. Russia’s lack of a robust and heavy-hitting aerial precision attack capability may necessitate the use of these cruise missiles for certain high-priority target sets.
This leap from “mutual cooperation” to Iran allowing forward basing of some of Russia’s most destructive aircraft could have significant strategic implications. Now Russia has bases in Syria and Iran, sandwiched in between is war torn Iraq that is fractured along sectarian lines. Iran is heavily involved with backing the increasingly powerful Shiite militias in Iraq, putting its own commanders on the ground to lead them in battle as well as providing them with material and air support. Meanwhile, the US backs the more diverse Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, among other smaller factions.
Today, these factions have a common enemy in ISIS, but once that enemy is removed from the equation, a major fight for control of Iraq seems likely. If Iran can exert proxy control over Iraq, leveraging the Shiite majority in that country, Russia would be able to draw a line of great influence traveling from the Iran’s eastern border with Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf, to Syria’s coast on the Mediterranean Sea.
This all begs the question: Would Russia use its air power and newly established nearby basing to support Iran’s bid for proxy control of Iraq? It is very possible. Such a situation, one where once again the US would find itself diametrically opposed to Russia’s will, could be far more volatile the than the one in Syria today.
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