Monday, Aug. 22, just a week after the Russian defense ministry proudly released images of the first Russian bombardments in Syria to be launched from Nojeh airbase, which Tehran had granted Moscow near the Iranian town of Hamedan, the Iranian defense ministry snatched the concession back in a public rebuff for Moscow.
The Russians had presented its Iranian acquisition as the twin of the air base granted by Syria at Kmeimim near Latakia.
However, the Iranian defense ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi announced baldly on Monday that the Russian mission “is finished for now.” He added that the Russian air strikes in Syria were "temporary, based on a Russian request;" they were carried out with "mutual understanding and with Iran's permission" and that the Russian mission "is finished, for now.”
Iranian sources claimed that this stinging slap to the Kremlin was prompted by mounting Iranian popular and parliamentary criticism, on the grounds that permission to a foreign power to use an Iranian base for the first time since World War II violated Article 146 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution.
Attempts by Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and other regime officials to explain that the Russians had not been given an air base in Iran, only permission to use it to support the war Bashar Assad was waging against terrorists, an interest shared by Iran, fell on deaf ears.
A public outcry on this scale against any steps taken the ayatollahs’ regime is unusual enough to warrant exploration to uncover the hand behind it and its motives. This is all the more pressing in view of the stunning impact of the abrupt Iranian curtailment of the Russian air base venture after no more than three sorties were waged against Syrian targets: Stopped in its tracks for now – even before takeoff – is Vladimir Putin’s effort to promote his grand plan for a new and powerful Russian-Iranian-Turkish-Iraqi-Syrian pact.
The only figure in Tehran capable of raising such a public firestorm with the clout for thwarting the Russian president is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, debkafile’s Iranian sources report.
In handling the air base issue, Putin made the same mistake as US President Barack Obama. Both assumed that getting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s cooperation and sensitive diplomatic prodding would eventually win the supreme leader over.
Rouhani had hoped that by extending permission to Iran’s friend Putin for the use of the Nojeh base for air strikes against Syria, he would recover some of the standing he forfeited in Tehran by signing off on the international nuclear accord in 2015.
He took a chance when, on Aug. 16, he summoned the national supreme military council and, without prior consultation with Khamenei, announced the decision to make the Nojeh air base available to the Russian air force. This was a serious miscalculation.
The supreme leader was further incensed by the exclusive report published by DEBKA file that day that Russian air freighters were on their way to the Hamedan base with advanced S-300 and S-400 air defense missiles for guarding the site and the Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers deployed there.
Khamenei interpreted this to mean that the Russians were already acting to commandeer the airspace over the base deep inside Iran.
Not content with the brush-off administered to Moscow by his spokesman, Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan chided Moscow crudely for “showing off” over the air base in an “ungentlemanly manner” and a "betrayal of trust."
He said: "We have not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay."
Realizing he was in hot water, the Iranian president tried to save face.
He arranged to be photographed for state media over the weekend, alongside the Bavar-373 missile defense system, declaring that having developed this system at home, Tehran can defend itself without recourse to the Russian high-altitude, long-range S-300s, because the Bavar-373 was just as good.
debkafile’s military sources refute this claim. Indeed, the system on display which is based on Chinese technology is not operational.
However, the display did not save either Rouhani or Putin from Khamenei’s ire. Nojeh was shut down, a message the Iranian defense ministry spokesman underlined when he said Monday: Russia "has no base in Iran."