Russia Launches Airstrikes from Iran for Second Straight Day
In a move that frustrated the U.S. and has some questioning its adherence to international law, Russia began using a base in Iran to launch airstrikes against targets in Syria on Tuesday. Russia confirmed Wednesday that it launched additional strikes from Iran’s Shahid Nojeh Air Base in Hamedan Province for the second straight day. The U.S. State Department condemned Russia’s actions as “unfortunate, but not surprising,” and added it could be violating a U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolution by utilizing an Iranian air base.
For roughly the past year, Russia has been supporting the Syrian government with airstrikes against the Islamic State, which continues to maintain a presence in the heavily fractured country. Critics say Russia is bolstering Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, in his quest to exterminate any rebel groups who oppose his rule by deliberately destroying hospitals in rebel-held regions. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in Syria’s five-year civil war, and millions more have fled the country, seeking asylum in Europe and elsewhere.
Russia said it’s using Iran’s air base strictly to refuel its jets. “In the case we’re discussing there has been no supply, sale or transfer of warplanes to Iran,” said Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister. Lavrov was responding to Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman who insinuated that Russia is breaching UNSC Resolution 2231, which prohibits the supply, sale, or transfer of combat aircraft to Iran without Security Council approval. “The Russian Air Force uses these warplanes with Iran’s approval in order to take part in the counter-terrorism operation,” Lavrov added.
A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said that Russia did alert U.S. forces of the move to launch jets from Iran, but that didn’t stop the U.S. from questioning the Kremlin’s use of an Iranian airbase as unlawful. On Wednesday, a spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, expressed Russia’s exasperation at suggestions that it’s breaching international law. “It’s hard to resist a recommendation for some State Department representatives to check their logic and knowledge of fundamental documents of international law,” he said, referencing Resolution 2231.
The clash underscores the knotted nature of alliances and adversaries that is crippling any semblance of peace in Syria. Russia is providing military support to the Syrian government, which is also backed by Iran. Those three nations, as well as the U.S. and its primary allies, have a common enemy: ISIS. Assad, the Syrian strongman who has exterminated large swaths of his citizenry, is also pitted against a collection of rebel groups who threaten his hold on power.
Emblematic of the violence that is tearing apart the country at the moment, Aleppo, one of Syria’s largest cities, saw seven civilians killed by rebel-launched airstrikes on Wednesday, according to Syria’s state-run news agency. Nine more were injured. Aleppo is split between the rebel-held east and the government-held west. It’s hospitals are being targeted by the Assad regime. Civilians are effectively trapped. On Wednesday, the United Nations warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Aleppo should conditions remain the same or worsen.