Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The Russians and the Iranian Base | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The confusion that accompanied the announcement of an agreement under which Iran granted Russia use of a military air base in Hamadan is unworthy of serious discussion. News agencies are preoccupied with the news and some have reported that the Iranian parliament opposed the agreement and hampered it. The parliament in Iran is not able to hinder such agreements, and this claim is simply nonsensical.

Those who are aware of the real hierarchy of decision making in Iran know very well that major decisions are above the parliament’s authority and that the only person who is able to obstruct them is Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran’s parliament, just like most parliaments in the Middle East, is just part of the political decor. The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani who is also responsible for relations with Russia only apologised for his remarks which underestimated the significance of parliament’s objection because he embarrassed the political system by telling the truth.

After the speaker of parliament highlighted the “ethics of governance”, Shamkhani corrected himself and said he did not mean to insult the legislative council. The controversy is just a storm in a teacup, and it was not parliament who impeded the strategic agreement with Moscow.

If we assume that the Russians no longer use the base, what happened? Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said that Russia stopped using the Hamadan base and ended its military activities above Iranian soil. This story is easy to prove or disprove because the Americans monitor the Hamadan base and will publish pictures of Russian bombers if they find them there during the next few weeks, just like they did when Moscow announced that it had withdrawn most of its air force in Syria, and it turned out that it had increased its presence instead.

If it is confirmed that the Russians really have stopped their military cooperation, this is an important and positive change. If the pictures show that the number of Russian military forces in Iran have increased, the story may be more serious than we think it is.

If the Russians or the Iranians really withdrew from the strategic agreement, it is likely to be due to the fact that Moscow felt that it would be a mistake to expand the relationship into an alliance with Tehran. A large bloc of Arab governments has been formed as a result of President Barack Obama’s negative stances, and it aims to enhance relations with Putin’s government. This bloc includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, and all of these countries headed towards the east after Obama decided to reconcile with Iran at the expense of their security and interests. I did not mention other Arab countries because they enjoyed good relations with Russia before that.

This Arab bloc is trying to balance the relationship with the regime in Tehran and although most countries in the bloc differ with Russia over the war in Syria and are against its rapprochement with Iran, they allow a margin of difference that is essential in the climate of complex international relations. However, if Moscow becomes Iran’s main military ally, it is expected that the bloc will reduce the rapprochement and re-examine its calculations and relationships. The political equation is simple; whoever gets closer to Iran moves further away from the Arabs.

Iran, too, has its own calculations. It previously used its relations with Moscow to convince Americans of the importance of its role in the region. As for why Iranians are more concerned about Washington than Moscow, which supported them during the period of western sanctions, this is because they realise that it is impossible for them to develop their oil production capabilities without western technology. In addition to this, they know that they cannot stop the collapse of their economy without trading with dollars, something that is forbidden, and that they cannot expand politically, militarily and regionally without neutralising the Americans. This explains Iran’s contradictions in its relations with the two axes.

The Russian-Iranian rapprochement will cause the Arab bloc to return to Washington and will increase the pace of unrest in the region, at a time when Russian enthusiasm here may only aim to serve a bigger game in areas where Russia is influential in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.