Russia is using an Iranian air base to launch warplanes and carry out airstrikes on militants in Syria, according to multiple news outlets reporting the announcement from Russia. This comes about four or five days after press in the United States asked State Department officials to comment on issues concerning the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Russia/Ukraine earlier this month.
It may be unsettling for many to watch or read the news these days, as it appears there is a developing axis between Iran-Russia-Syria in the fight against the Islamic State militants, but the U.S. seems fine with all of it, a departure perhaps from last year's events when Russia built an airbase in Syria. State Department Press Office Director Elizabeth Trudeau asked earlier this month about reports of Turkey proposing "joint operations, military operations" with Russia and offered some thoughts to media on the situation in the region.
"Well, we've seen those reports, certainly, and we remain in close contact with our Turkish allies and our partners in the fight against Daesh. We've been clear if – work against Daesh, against ISIL is a priority for all of us – if this is truly a step in that direction, we would welcome that."
Of course, more is going on. The same spokesperson answered questions regarding the news that Russia would be holding "military exercises in the region." The press noted also the Ukraine-Russia escalation of tensions and barraged Trudeau with other concerns and reports for an official statement on all of the issues.
Trudeau gave a statement that Crimea is "part of Ukraine." But there was more apparently going on with the "Black Sea exercises," as Trudeau was also asked about the news that Russia was reporting "the Ukrainians have been plotting terrorist activities in the Crimea."
She explained, "As we have in the past, we expect Russia to fulfill all relevant commitments to provide neighbors with appropriate assurance and transparency about the size and character of its activities. With all exercises, including these, any activity must be consistent with international law and with due regard for the rights of other nations. In terms of the scale, scope, size, we'll refer you to the Russians to speak to it."
Russian bombers, Iranian Bases
Odd battlefield alliances exist now, according to one expert, but there is much concern over developments in the region.
Experts cited in news reports try to explain the issue. One of these is Joshua Landis, cited as an expert on Syria and the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, by the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. He exposes an issue not much talked about here in Western media.
Landis revealed that U.S.-backed PYD (Democratic Unity Party in Syria's Kurdish areas) wants recognition for their political organization in exchange for fighting on and dying for the effort to take the Arab cities of Raqqa or Deir-al-Zor.
"Today, only two militaries are in a position to take the eastern province of Deir al-Zor that borders Iraq or Raqqa. They are the US-backed Kurdish forces and the Syrian Army."
And the U.S. is likely finding itself in a difficult position, suggests Landis. Disliking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime on the one hand, but needing to be allied against IS as well. However, Landis did not mince words on the matter, saying President Barack Obama "is allowing both sides to kill each other without overtly taking sides."
"Although the US insists it is prioritizing the fight against Islamic State, its efforts are limited by the refusal to help Assad forces retake Syrian territory."
Iranian Base, Russian Bombers
The Russian warplanes are using the Hamadan airbase in Iran, according to writer Stepan Kravchenko over at Bloomberg, as something of a "symbolic gesture" due to the extreme tensions in the region. Per the interview with Rashad al-Kattan, who is described in Kravchenko's article as being a political and security risk analyst in Scotland, it may be that Russia wishes to reassure Iran after making nice talk with Turkey and send a message to other nations concerned about the Syrian war ongoing with so many hundreds of thousands killed. The Russian Federation seems to be signaling that they "won't give up" on backing the current Syrian president.
Keep in mind the difficult situation this year between Russia and Turkey, however. Kravchenko also describes a phone interview with Sami Nader, described in the article as being in charge of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Beirut. Using bases in Iran helps because the fight includes "Iranian soldiers and Iranian-backed groups on the ground."
The U.S. State Department understands the complexity, and its remarks on the Syrian government of Assad have been clear enough. Director Trudeau informed the press that they are "looking into" reports of an "alleged chemical weapons attack in Aleppo with chlorine." Although they cannot confirm the chlorine attack, Trudeau's words were clear that they had been "monitoring" the issue.
"Yeah. As I said, we've noted the trend. We're increasingly concerned about it. We continue to gather information on this. It's something we're monitoring very closely."
And from other news on the matter of Russia using Iranian bases, Reuters observes from an interview with Zakaria Malahifi, described in the report as a political officer of an Aleppo-based rebel group, Fastaqim, that things have intensified there.
"It is much heavier. There is no weapon they have not dropped on Aleppo – cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs, and so on."
But the unfolding drama continues, and many are obviously watching as Moscow forges closer military ties with Tehran and work together to strike a range of targets in Syria and battle against Islamic State militants in Syria. The Russians also spent some time in Syria, of course, modernizing a port and a base with President Assad's approval, according to the article posted online last year over at the Telegraph.
Reporting in that piece, Rob Crilly stated that officials told him last year that the Russian's "set up an air traffic control tower and transported prefabricated housing units for up to 1,000 personnel" to an airfield near Latakia, a Syrian port city. Crilly also notes that President Barack Obama, at the time of the report, met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia "to repeat their demand that any lasting settlement in Syria would require an end to the Assad regime."
[Photo by Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool/AP Images]