The Middle East, by some military analysts’ estimates, is on the verge of becoming a huge battleground very soon. According to them, the unfolding of events in and out of the region points to this direction, perhaps unnoticed, if not ignored, by the so-called guardians of global peace and order.
One side of the competing military powers in the Middle East now appears to have positioned itself strategically, having renewed and solidified an alliance to combine their forces on account of their common objectives to control the region. Unfortunately, these military powers’ territorial ambitions seemed to have been brushed aside as meaningless bluster by those who are deemed to belong to the other side.
Hitting the headlines today is the Iranian defense minister’s accusation of Russia’s betrayal of trust. Only last week, Russia surprised the world, or at least the West, when it suddenly positioned its long-range Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter-bombers at Shahid Nojeh airbase near Hamedan to launch airstrikes on Islamic State and Jihadist terrorists in Syria.
According to Reuters’ Dubai columnist Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “It was the first time a foreign power used an Iranian base since World War Two. Russia and Iran are both providing crucial military support to President Bashar Assad against rebels and jihadi fighters in Syria’s five-year-old conflict.”
Such an unlikely move did not sit well with some lawmakers in Tehran, who called it in no uncertain terms “a breach of Iran’s constitution which forbids ‘the establishment of any kind of foreign military base in Iran, even for peaceful purposes,'” which is relatively no different from any other Muslim states in the Middle East.
That Russia abruptly pulled out its military arsenals from the Persian soil might have been because of this, despite Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s outright dismissal of the criticism from his country’s lawmakers.
In an effort to tone down the growing friction between Russia and Iran, Russian Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement, as quoted by Sharafedin, that their “military aircraft that took part in the operation of conducting airstrikes from Iran’s Hamadan air base on terrorist targets in Syria have successfully completed all tasks.”
“Further use of the Hamadan air base in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Russian Aerospace Forces will be carried out on the basis of mutual agreements to fight terrorism and depending on the prevailing circumstances in Syria,” the Russian military official maintained.
It remains unclear, though, whether the conflict between the two powers will soon dissipate.
Taking a broader perspective at the developments that have so far transpired in the Middle East is Luke Coffey, a research fellow who specializes in transatlantic and Eurasian security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy-making think tank in Washington, D.C.
In an article published by Al Jazeera on Monday, Coffey points to the fact that Moscow’s “aggressive behavior towards Eastern Europe,” its expanding “air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria,” and “its ability to use its status as a Eurasian power to advance its foreign policy goals in these regions has gone virtually unnoticed by Western policymakers.” This, he says, cannot be divorced from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention to leverage “Russian influence in one region to advance its interests in another.”
As Coffey puts it, “To the average Western observer, Russia’s recent actions in the Caspian, Iran or its [Collective Security Treaty Organization] military exercise are viewed as three different and unrelated things. For Putin, Russia’s actions in these three regions are parts of an interconnected and deliberate grand strategy.”
All of these, “notwithstanding the possible violation of UN Security Council 2231 over Russia’s use of bases in Iran,” taken in the larger context of Russia’s aggression in any of these regions, must be a cause for concern, according to Coffey.
For his part, Lamont Colucci, a former diplomat with the U.S. Department of State and now an associate professor of politics and government at Ripon College in Wisconsin, laments that American intellectuals have turned a blind eye to both Russia’s and Iran’s rise to power in a strategic effort to achieve their ambitions for dominance in the Middle East.
Writing in the Washington Post, Colucci invites America’s intellectuals and policymakers to take a closer look at how “the Persians have transformed their geopolitical imperative into a Shiite crusade to dominate the Shia crescent stretching from the Persian Gulf in the south to the Mediterranean in the northwest,” on the one hand, and how “the Russians launch invasions against their neighbors while engaging in adventurism in the Middle East,” on the other hand.
Deeply concerned by the “Putin Doctrine,” which for him is to blame for dividing NATO and discouraging the West to develop its anti-ballistic missile system, among others, Colucci paints a picture of a Russia that aggressively reasserts its “regional hegemony, combining 19th-century czarist policies as well as old Soviet grand strategy to justify a return to an imperial path.”
“This is backed by a massive military modernization campaign,” Colucci said, “including the upgrading of nuclear weapons, as demonstrated by Russia’s Syrian military campaign.”
Naturally following such a course, according to Colucci, is that of “combining the Shiite crusade and the ambitions of the Russian bear: Russia’s use of a military base in Iran.”
“If these were normal times, with clear-eyed American patriots controlling American national security,” Colucci was quick to add, “this would have raised alarm bells so loud that it would overtake what passes for news in much of the media.”
Either right or wrong, Coffey and Colucci deserve to be heard if the real balance of power is to be maintained not only in the Middle East but in other regions of the world.
[Photo by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/AP Images]