It is no secret that the Russia-Iran relationship has flourished since Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war. Nor is it a secret that both Moscow and Tehran have made substantial efforts to nurture and strengthen relations, perhaps in the hope of it blossoming into a formal alliance sometime in the future. It is not there yet, though the time may be coming when Vladimir Putin decides to place a ring on Rouhani’s finger-with the blessing of the Ayatollah, of course. Russia and Iran have been working together to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. Contrary to Russian and Iranian claims, the focus of their military efforts in Syria has not been ISIS, but Western-backed opposition forces. The majority of Russian air strikes have been made against these groups, as have efforts on the ground.
The latest example of the close cooperation between Russia and Iran came when Russia let it be known that it is staging combat aircraft from Iranian territory. On Tuesday, Russian Tu-22 Backfire long-range bombers and Su-34 Fullback strike fighters undertook air strikes against targets in Syria from Hamadan Air Base in Iran. The staging of aircraft from western Iran makes sense from an operational perspective. Backfires have been used in the conflict already, making round-trips from bases in southern Russia. Being able to operate from Iran cuts down on the duration and enables the Backfires and Fullbacks to spend more time over the target areas. The airstrikes serve as an indicator that the Russian air campaign is ramping up at a time when the fighting in and around Aleppo is increasing in size and scope.
Politically, Russian aircraft operating from Iran serves as an example of the increasingly close ties between the two nations and their commitment to the Assad regime in Syria. In a broader sense, it sends a message to the West that Russia’s presence in the Middle East will not be short-term or temporary. Moscow is there for the long haul.