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Russia, Iran reset Middle East’s geopolitics

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 21, 2016

In exceptionally assertive remarks on Saturday, Iranian Defence Minister Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in Tehran that more numbers of Iranian military bases could be made available to Russia, depending on operational requirements, in addition to the use of the Hamadan air base by Russian bombers currently.

He added that there is no time limit set to the access given to Russian aircraft to operate out of Hamadan military base. Dehqan disclosed:

  • Russian jets and bombers are free to undertake repairs and load ordnance in the Iranian base;
  • Iran’s military cooperation with Russia in this respect is “strategic” in nature;
  • The cooperation stems from a defence pact to upgrade military cooperation “so as to act in more harmony, particularly in the fight against terrorism”;
  • The use of Iranian military bases by Russia is a topic that is beyond the purview of the Majlis (implying it is based on decision by the Supreme Leader);
  • The Iran-Russia alliance aims to bring an early end to the Syrian conflict.

The big question will be whether an Iran-Russia mutual security alliance could be in the making – something akin to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971.

A Moscow pundit Prof. Dmitry Yevstafyev tiptoed around the explosive theme in the weekend. He made the following key points in an opinion-piece that is presumably intended for the Western audience:

  • There is “still no talk of a full-fledged military union” between Russia and Iran;
  • However, the use of Hamadan is not a stand-alone event, either;
  • Nor is it to be seen as a mere tactical tie-up with the narrow objective of liberating Aleppo;
  • On the contrary, it rests on a solid foundation that has been laid carefully in political, military and economic terms in the Russian-Iranian relations through recent period, which in turn is predicated on a cool assessment by Moscow that the US-Iran ‘honeymoon’ has become a thing of the past;
  • Russia and Iran have created together a “completely new context” in the region and aspire to be “decisive players”;
  • Russia has signalled to Washington that: a) its partnership with Iran is a “strategic priority”; b) Moscow is no longer bound by US’ ‘red lines’ as regards strategic ties with Iran; c) if Hamadan tie-up is successful, “moves that will lead to an unprecedented convergence between Iran and Moscow are also possible in future”; and, d) Washington cannot stop Moscow in its tracks in the priority task of “destroying the Syrian opposition in Aleppo”;
  • Russia’s tie-up with Iran has emboldened Beijing to shed its reticence and to move to “expand its assistance” to the Syrian regime with the intention to “participate in future political and economic processes”.

To my mind, the above is an accurate assessment of the trends that have surfaced. This can only mean that the balance of power in the Middle East is phenomenally shifting.

India needs to take serious note even as Minister of State MJ Akbar arrives today in Damascus on a rare visit by an Indian dignitary. (Where China goes, can India be far behind?)

To be sure, Moscow is moving speedily to create new facts on the ground before the next US president takes over the reins of the US’ Middle East policies. Moscow aims to bolster Iran’s defence capability to a point that a military strike on that country becomes a non-option for the US and/or Israel.

Conceivably, we cannot rule out that there would have been some discussions already between Moscow and Tehran regarding a mutual security alliance in the event of a military threat from a new US administration dominated by neoconservative ideologues (which could be the case in a Hillary Clinton presidency.)

Russia is speeding up the delivery of the S-300 missile system to Iran. Reports from Tehran say that the delivery will be completed within a month from now.

The Israeli military intelligence sources have been cited by Debka as claiming that Russia has deployed the formidable S-400 missile system as well in Hamadan. (Despite Iranian denials, this should not cause surprise since pictures show an unspecified number of Tu-22M3 strategic ‘Backfire’ bombers – capable of carrying nuclear missiles – and Su-34 strike fighters parked in the Hamadan air base; and it is inconceivable that a solid Russian air defence system is not deployed alongside.)

The import of the Russian-Iranian strategic congruence is sinking in regionally. Over the weekend, for the first time Syrian jets attacked Kurdish forces in northern Syria (which are protected by the US Special Forces) despite American warnings to stay clear. (Reuters )

Equally, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a 5-hour meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif in Tehran on August 18 to follow up on Zarif’s talks with the Turkish leadership in Ankara on August 12. Cavusoglu’s hurried trip to Tehran aimed at Turkish-Iranian coordination in the move against Kurds.

Ankara will be pleased with the prospect of Damascus taking on the Kurds, finally. In remarks Saturday in Ankara, Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim strongly hinted at Turkey moving on the ground to prevent the emergence of a Kurdistan enclave in northern Syria (with tacit US backing). Turkey has shared interest in this regard with Tehran and Damascus.

If so, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus may find themselves on the same page sooner than one would have expected. Moscow cannot but be pleased with this prospect.(Sputnik )

August 21, 2016 - Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , ,

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