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Super powers chessboard contest – II

Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants for the first time on 15 August 2016, widening its air campaign in Syria and deepening its involvement in the Middle East. (Reuters 16th August 2016)

In a move underscoring Moscow’s increasingly close ties with Tehran, long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Iran’s Hamadan air base to strike a range of targets in Syria.

It was the first time Russia has used the territory of another nation, apart from Syria itself, to launch such strikes since the Kremlin launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

It was also thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Iranian deployment will boost Russia’s image as a central player in the Middle East and allow the Russian air force to cut flight times and increase bombing payloads.

The head of Iran’s National Security Council was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying Tehran and Moscow were now sharing facilities to fight against terrorism, calling their cooperation strategic.

Both countries back Assad, and Russia, after a delay, has supplied Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system, evidence of a growing partnership between the pair that has helped turn the tide in Syria’s civil war and is testing U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Relations between Tehran and Moscow have grown warmer since Iran reached agreement last year with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of U.N., EU and U.S. financial sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin visited Iran in November 2015 and the two countries regularly discuss military planning for Syria, where Iran has provided ground forces that work with local allies while Russia provides air power.

Although several countries in the region have flirted with strengthened ties to Russia, Moscow has made little headway in fulfilling its ambitions for greater Middle East sway. Syria has long been an exception, historically purchasing Russian arms and hosting a Russian naval facility on the Mediterranean.

Tehran, in addition to their joint support for Assad, has seen strategic advantage in relations with post-Soviet Russia, sharing a desire to counter U.S. influence with increased trade and energy cooperation. The Iran nuclear deal allowed Russia to fulfill a years-old agreement to sell Iran its powerful S-300 air-defense missile system.

Last year, Russia and Iran signed a military cooperation deal focused on training and on fighting terrorism. On 14th August 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top Middle East envoy arrived in Tehran to discuss bilateral relations. Russia has also requested the use of Iranian airspace to fire cruise missiles at rebel targets in Syria.

Iran has long banned foreign militaries from establishing bases on its soil. But the raids appeared to signal a budding alliance that would expand Russia’s military footprint in the region.

Until now, Russia’s long-range bombers, which require longer airstrips, had to be launched from Russian territory more than 1,200 miles away. Now, those same bombers need to fly only about 400 miles from Iran to Syria, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported on 15th August 2016. The shorter distance, using less fuel and allowing a bigger payload, will allow Russia to intensify its air campaign against rebel-held areas.

The Russian Defence Ministry has confirmed that its bombers had taken off on 16th August 2016 from the Hamadan air base in north-west Iran. To reach Syria, they would have had to use the air space of another neighboring country, probably Iraq.

The ministry said 16th August strikes had targeted Islamic State as well as militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces. It said its Iranian-based bombers had been escorted by fighter jets based at Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria’s Latakia Province.

Russia’s state-backed Rossiya 24 channel said the Iranian deployment would allow the Russian air force to cut flight times by 60 percent. The Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which before 16-8-2016 had conducted strikes on Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia’s own air base inside Syria, Russian media reported.

Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers fly in formation during the Victory Day parade, marking the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War-II

“As a result of the strikes five large arms depots were destroyed … a militant training camp … three command and control points … and a significant number of militants,” the ministry said in a statement.

The destroyed facilities had all been used to support militants in the Aleppo area, it said, where battle for control of the divided city, which had some 2 million people before the war, has intensified in recent weeks.

“It is much heavier,” Reuters reported, “There is no weapon they have not dropped on Aleppo, cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs, and so on.”

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, is divided into rebel and government-held zones. The government aims to capture full control of it, which would be its biggest victory of the five year conflict.

Russian media reported on 16th August 2016 that Russia had also requested and received permission to use Iran and Iraq as a route to fire cruise missiles from its Caspian Sea fleet into Syria, as it has done in the past.

Russia has built up its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caspian as part of what it says are planned military exercises.

On the other side Washington has said that it only makes more difficult what is already a complex, contentious and difficult situation, adding that it was “unclear” whether Russia planned to continue using the Iranian base, or the operation was a one-off.

On the same day, Secretary of State John F. Kerry raised concern over the flights in a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Under the terms of a U.S.-Russia agreement to “deconflict” their flights over Syria, the U.S. military was notified in advance that the bombers would pass across Iraqi airspace and through Syria, according to Col. Christopher Garver, the Baghdad-based spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner called the flights “unfortunate, but not surprising or unexpected.” Like other Russian strikes in Syria, he said, the Russian bombers predominantly targeted moderate opposition forces fighting against Assad,

ANOTHER WORRY:
U.S. NUKES AT TURKEY AIRBASE AT RISK OF CAPTURE;

Some 50 nuclear weapons owned by the United States and stored at a Turkish air base near the Syrian border are in danger of falling into the hands of “terrorists or other hostile forces,” a think tank said in a new report released on 15th August 2016.

The Incirlik air base in southern Turkey is situated just 110 kilometres, or 70 miles, from the northern border of Syria, which is now in its sixth year of a deadly civil war.

Washington has stored approximately 50 nuclear bombs at the base that the U.S. uses to conduct air strikes and drone strikes against the Syrian official forces helping the militant groups backed by Washington.

Turkey gave the U.S. permission to use Incirlik in July 2015. Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar also all have aircraft stationed at the air base for the fight against Syria’s official forces.

Whether the U.S. could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question, and also very horrifying.

The U.S. military, which does not publicly detail where it stores its nuclear arsenals across the world, keeps such weapons at Incirlik as a symbol of Washington’s dedication to the NATO alliance, of which Turkey is a member, as well as the stockpile acting as a deterrent to Russia.

There are significant safeguards in place…But safeguards are just that, they don’t eliminate risk. In the event of a coup, it’s for certain that the forces would have been able to maintain control, is a big question mark.

The Department of Defence said in a statement that it had taken the requisite measures to prevent such stockpiles from falling into the hands of dangerous and enemy groups, but would not comment about specific locations.

The circumstances in the region are now clear that Russia has practically jumped into the war, so the hazard remains.

Washington has always played a duplicitous role, on one side taking action against Al-Qaida and on the other side providing them armaments to fight against the Syrian official forces. So, worry remains with the Pentagon.

Russia and Iran, both countries are strong allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but the flights marked the first time Russia has launched strikes from Iranian territory.

Russia, the history elucidate, always stand affirm, with his allies, unlike Washington, who usually retreat back in difficult times leaving allies alone to face the challenge.

Washington with it’s duplicitous role,  is extensively involved disrupting the peace of Middle East Region since long, basically starting from Iraq, then Egypt and Libya, favouring the militants.  BUT, this time, Russia has a strong hold and will win the chessboard, which can lead to a peaceful Middle East once again.

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About Tariq M Qureshi

Tariq M Qureshi
A Technocrat, Political Analyst and Group Editor Lahore Post. He can be reached at taritaq@hotmail.com

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