TEL AVIV – Russia’s decision to use Iran as a base for bombers striking Syria came as a surprise to the U.S. and Israel, officials in both countries have said.
Even though Israeli and American intelligence agencies were aware of the possibility that Russia would fly planes out of Iran, U.S. officials note that it was not expected to happen as quickly as it did, adding that it seemed to happen overnight as a political message from the Kremlin to the White House.
A U.S. military official said the Russians flew four Tu-22 Backfire bombers to an air base in western Iran along with a Russian cargo plane armed with munitions for strategic bombers, marking the first time Russia has used a third country to attack rebel targets inside Syria.
The move is said to be the result of clandestine cooperation between Russia and Iran to boost their military capabilities.
For now, Israeli sources say Russia’s deployment of striker fighters in Iran is not a game changer where the Jewish state is concerned. However, they concede that further down the line such an alliance may have negative consequences.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the Khmeimim Air Base east of the city of Latakia in Syria – used by Russia until now – is not large enough to accommodate the Tu-22.
The move flies in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement a few months ago that he was withdrawing Russia’s military assets from the embattled country.
Russian TV stations at the time showed Russian troops and airplanes going home, but this was just an “illusion,” the report said, adding that Russia has no interest in ending its involvement in the Syrian civil war, and instead aspires to increase its presence in the entire region.
To that end, Putin is exploiting President Barack Obama’s incoherent foreign policy. While the U.S. is intent on detaching itself from world conflicts and becoming mired a form of isolationism, Russia is bolstering its military cooperation with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to Israeli military officials, this is part of Russian efforts to sow tension between the U.S. and its allies.
Just last week Moscow resolved its issues with Turkey.
In all those countries – as well as in Israel – Russia is becoming the “rising military star in the region while the U.S. is perceived as a falling star,” the report said.
China too is taking advantage of the U.S.’s weakened position by intensifying its efforts in the Middle East, most recently by its pledge on Tuesday to provide aid and military training to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army.