MOSCOW — An Iranian official said Monday that Russia would no longer use the Islamic republic’s air bases to strike targets in Syria — an apparent rebuke of Moscow for announcing the deployment in the media last week.
At a news conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said that Russia’s use of Iran’s Hamadan Air Base was “temporary, based on a Russian request,” and that it is “finished for now.” Russia “has no base in Iran,” Ghasemi added, according to an Associated Press translation of his remarks.
Russia began launching strikes into Syria from Iranian territory Aug. 16 in a surprise announcement that indicated Russia’s growing clout in the region, where it already has military aircraft stationed in Syria and has negotiated the use of airspace and intelligence-sharing with Iraq. Along with fighters from Iran and the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militia, Russian muscle is helping to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, striking a wide range of his enemies, from the Islamic State to more-moderate armed opposition groups.
But Iran’s sudden reversal Monday showed that allies with a common cause, fighting against Assad’s enemies, maintain diverse goals in the region. While Russian politicians indicated a long-term deployment, saying that warplanes stationed in Iran would conserve fuel instead of flying a longer route from the Russian Caucasus, Iranian officials made clear that they were unhappy about the publicity and being seen as a Russian client in the region.
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan on Monday attacked publications of the Russian military press that reported the use of Iran’s air base. “There has been a kind of showing-off and inconsiderate attitude behind the announcement of this news,” he told an Iranian television channel.
“Naturally, the Russians are keen to show that they are a superpower and an influential country and that they are active in security issues in the region and the world,” Dehghan said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Russia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for further comment Monday. Russia conducted at least three sorties from the air base over the past week, using Tu-22 long-range bombers usually stationed in Mozdok, Russia, as well as Su-34 strike aircraft that Russia also has stationed in Syria. They were accompanied by Su-30SM and Su-35S fighters also flying from Iran’s air base, the Russian military said in statements published last week.
Russia never said the deployment would be permanent, although there were indications that officials thought it would be long-term.
“There is no other country in that region to be friendlier and better from the security angle, and we have to deliver those strikes if we want to end that war,” Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, said Aug. 16. He was referring to Iran.