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Russian Bombers Use Iranian Base to Attack Syrian Militants (1)

Tuesday, 16 Aug 2016 02:10 PM

(Bloomberg) -- Russia said for the first time publicly that its warplanes are using an air base in Iran to bomb Islamic State and other militants in Syria.

Tu-22M3 and Su-34 bombers flew from Iran’s Hamadan base Tuesday to attack Islamic State and Nusra Front targets in Syria’s Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib provinces, the Russian Defense Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. They returned to the base after completing their missions, it said.

The bombers were supported by fighter jets from Syria’s Hmeimeem base that Russia’s used to carry out airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad since September.

Russia’s announcement that it’s using an Iranian base to carry out attacks in Syria comes after President Vladimir Putin discussed the fight against terrorism with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani when they met in Azerbaijan last week. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Iranian defense officials agreed on expanded military cooperation at talks in Moscow this month, according to the Izvestia daily. Russia and Iran are backing Assad’s army against opposition groups in Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 280,000 people and displaced millions.

“Cooperation between Iran and Russia in fighting terrorism in Syria is strategic and we exchange potential and resources,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency cited Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying when asked about Russia’s use of the air base. The “increased and constructive cooperation between Iran, Russia and Syria” will continue with “new and extensive operations” until militants are “annihilated,” he said.

Cruise Missiles

Russia asked Iran and Iraq last week to allow cruise missiles to pass through their airspace, the Interfax news service reported Monday, citing an unidentified person with knowledge of the matter. Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired 26 cruise missiles at targets in Syria in October, shortly after Putin ordered the military campaign to commence.

The Russians are using the Iranian base as a “symbolic gesture” to demonstrate to the U.S. that they’re “carrying out their plans militarily,” Rashad al-Kattan, a political and security risk analyst who’s a fellow at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said from London. Russian and Iranian military cooperation shows the “cohesiveness of the Assad camp” in Syria and that they “won’t give up” on the Syrian president, he said.

The development is a gesture of reassurance to show that the Russian rapprochement with Turkey “is not at the expense of Iran,” Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said by phone. “They do want to keep Iran in their camp for one single reason: they are fighting with Iranian soldiers and Iranian-backed groups on the ground,” he said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran on Monday to discuss the Syrian conflict, Iranian state-run media including the Mehr news agency reported.

(Updates with Iranian comment in fifth paragraph, analysts in seventh, eighth.)

--With assistance from Ladane Nasseri To contact the reporters on this story: Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow at skravchenko@bloomberg.net, Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at dabunasr@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net, Tony Halpin, Michael Winfrey

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

   
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Tuesday, 16 Aug 2016 02:10 PM
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