Iran’s state-controlled news outlets have this week dedicated significant coverage to the latest rapprochement between Tehran and Moscow. Military cooperation between the Iranian regime and Russia has increased to levels that have not been seen since the establishment of the Iranian regime in 1979.
Heading a military delegation, the commander of the Iranian navy, Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi, this month paid a three-day visit to Russia and held talks with Russian commanders. It seems that Iran is seeking Moscow’s assistance and this has led to an agreement between its armed forces and Russia’s Ministry of Defense. The agreement is the first of its kind when it comes to boosting military cooperation between the two countries. Parts of it have remained secret, with the Iranian commander pointing out that: “Some articles of this agreement are classified but, overall, it is aimed at expanding military cooperation between the two countries.”
The two countries have also reached an agreement on holding joint drills in the Indian Ocean, the Strait of Hormuz, the Makran waters, and in the Gulf during the next few months. It is considered a turning point between the two countries, as Iran has plans to allow Russia to dispatch its naval fleet to the south of Iran, near the cities of Bandar Bushehr and Chabahar.
It seems that Iran is moving toward a path that would ultimately allow Russia to have a base in the Gulf. In fact, there are already reports that Tehran has agreed to permit Russia to station its forces and weaponry at Iranian ports.
If Iran proceeds with such an agreement, the move would be extremely controversial not only in the region, but also inside Iran for two major reasons. First of all, it would be very unpopular with the Iranian population as Iranians have historically opposed allowing foreign powers to exert influence over their country.
In fact, the Iranian leaders would be violating two articles of the country’s constitution if they allowed Russia to have military bases in the Strait of Hormuz. Article 152 stipulates that: “The foreign policy of Iran is based upon the rejection of all forms of domination, both the exertion of it and submission to it, the preservation of the independence of the country in all respects and its territorial integrity, the defense of the rights of all Muslims, non-alignment with respect to the hegemonic superpowers, and the maintenance of mutually peaceful relations with all non-belligerent States.” Article 153 adds: “Any form of agreement resulting in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, army, or culture of the country, as well as other aspects of the national life, is forbidden.”
Secondly, since it came to power, the theocratic establishment has boasted about being an independent government and bragged about pursuing foreign and domestic policies that are self-reliant. One of the major criticisms of the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was that he appeared to be acting on behalf of the West, particularly the US. In fact, two of the most important slogans of the ruling clerics translate as “neither the East, nor the West, (but only) Iran,” and “independence, freedom, and Iran.”
But the Iranian regime appears to be willing to ignore its own constitution due to the fact that it is in a desperate situation both geopolitically and strategically. The Trump administration has been imposing a considerable amount of pressure on Tehran with its military buildup in the Gulf, which includes the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln and a Patriot missile battery, and the bolstering of the US military presence with an additional 1,500 troops.
Iran has been viewing the US-led maritime security mission in the Gulf as a major threat to its national security. The threat has been magnified as several countries, including the UK and Israel, have agreed to join the US-led coalition. Khanzadi lashed out by saying: “Nothing has happened in the region… and the show that arrogant countries, most importantly the US and the UK, put on is only a big bluff and a dishonest act aimed to create the impression that the region is unsafe.”
President Hassan Rouhani also issued a warning in a live televised speech: “A strait for a strait. It can’t be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us.”
The Israeli presence in the Strait of Hormuz will be the greatest blow to the Iranian leaders due to the deep hostility between these two countries. That is why Hossein Kanani-Moghaddam, who served as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, stated that, if Israel builds bases in the Gulf, they would be “struck by our missiles without any advanced notice. If the Israeli forces enter the Gulf, they will be targeted along with those countries who help them.”
In summary, Iran is desperately seeking Russia’s assistance in the Gulf. Tehran’s move to allow Moscow to exert influence over the country’s waters is unprecedented and likely to be extremely unpopular with the Iranian population.