By Ahmet Dursun and Hakan Ceyhan Aydogan
ISTANBUL (AA): Iran’s defense minister criticized Russia on Monday for “showing off” by announcing how Russian jets had used an Iranian airbase to strike at positions in Syria.
Speaking on state-run television, Hossein Dehghan said Russia had failed to respect confidentiality, describing Moscow’s attitude as “ungentlemanly”.
Dehghan denied Iran had “reserved” its airbase in the western Hamedan region for Russia, saying it would only use the base for a limited time in line with the need in Syria.
At a press conference Monday in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Russia would stop using the Iranian airbase for the time being.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in his press conference that the Russian aircraft using Iran’s Hamedan Airbase had successfully completed their tasks and returned to Russia.
Sergey Zhigarev, first deputy chairman of Russian State Duma Defense Committee, said Russia’s use of Hamedan airbase was only for a short time.
“Our Iranian partners have voluntarily allowed us to use the airbase. Our aircraft left the airbase after completing their mission,” he said.
The U.S. State Department said Washington was closely monitoring the possible Russian usage of the Iranian airbase that was part of the “alarming” larger picture coming out of Syria, where Russian and Syrian regime’s airstrikes continued to hit civilians in and around Aleppo.
Last week, Iran allowed Russia to use the Hamedan Shahid Nojeh Airbase to launch airstrikes on Syria, the first time the Iranian government allowed a foreign power to use its military bases since the 1979 revolution. But it said the use was not a permanent arrangement, but the result of “limited cooperation”.
Last Wednesday, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani initially denied Tehran had permitted Russia to use the base, citing a law, he said, bans foreign presence on Iran’s military bases, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.
Before using the Iranian airbase, Russian forces had been using the Khmeimim Airbase in Syria or its own bases in Russia.
Since last September, Russia has bolstered its military assets in Syria’s coastal areas, generally relying on a Caspian Sea-Iran-Iraq air corridor. On September 30, when international criticism of the Russian military buildup in Syria was mounting, Moscow began extensive air operations in the country, declaring that it was fighting against terrorism.
Turkey and Western powers, for their part, accused Russia of striking at moderate Syrian opposition groups rather than terrorist targets. Russia currently maintains Su-24s, Su-25s, and Su-30s at the airbase, which is controlled by the Bashar al-Assad regime of Syria, along with Mi-24 attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests – which erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings — with unexpected ferocity. Since then, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced across the war-battered country, according to the UN.
The Syrian Center for Policy Research, however, put the death toll from the six-year conflict at more than 470,000 people.
[Photo: Russian Sukhoi Su- 34 striking an enemy position in Syria/Creative Commons]