The Next US President’s Challenge: The Iranian and Russian Alliance

The Middle East is undergoing major whirlwinds of change. Two major events in recent weeks are about to bring tectonic shifts in Middle Eastern politics. While the region is known for its continuous turbulence and fickleness, nevertheless certain epochal events can change the tide and trajectory of the region and its politics.

Since the war in Iraq, the influence of the US has been declining due to the handling of that war, its outcome, and the domino effect that followed. As a result, the vacuum of power created from the chaos of the Iraq war has led to the increase in Iranian influence in the region, especially in the Levant. The importance of Iranian solidification in the northern region is crucial because it allows for an unimpeded route from Tehran to the Mediterranean. This route has been endangered by the revolution to overthrow Iran’s ally, Assad, as well as the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The recent announcement of Russia’s use of an airbase in Iran signifies a major change. It represents a change in momentum in favor of Assad as well as Iran’s strategy on solidifying its hold in the region with the backing of a major power. Between now and the end of the year, events will only continue to get worse and bleak for the US. The next US president will come into office with a major foreign policy headache amongst other thorny international issues.

Turn of Events

The first event was the Turkish coup and subsequent fallout between American and Turkish relations. Certain elements in the Turkish government including President Erdogan believe the US based cleric Gulen was behind the event and potentially had implicit backing from the US while other elements believe it was a false flag attack staged by Erdogan to solidify his hold on power. Whatever might have happened, the ensuing disastrous fallout after the coup is probably one of the biggest failures in American relational politics. If NATO, more importantly, the US loses Turkey as an ally, Middle Eastern politics will forever change. The political direction appears to be headed in such a direction.

The second major event has been the Russian presence and use of the Iranian airbase of Hamedan. The Russians have begun to stage attacks on Syria from the airbase in Hamedan. While at first glance, such a deployment of fighter jets from a nearby airbase of an ally country does not warrant much reaction, further analyses prove otherwise.

Iranian Advantage

The tangible or tactical advantage of such a move means Russia can deliver more firepower for the war in Syria. All fighter jets must be continuously cognizant of their weight and when deployed from Russia, the jets were focused more on fuel rather than payload and munitions to ensure the jet made it back to its base. Unlike before, Russia can now deliver more attacks over shorter distances in Syria thanks to the closer range deployments the Iranian base offers. More attacks mean more potential for Assad’s forces to make advances in Syria. While momentum appears to be turning in favor of Assad, the prospect of a fully unified Syria under anyone’s rule is a farfetched and a capricious thought. Both Iran and Russia are cognizant of how events will play out and want to ensure Assad’s reign over Western Syria near the border with Lebanon as well as a stronger position during negotiations.

Strategically, the consequences of such deployments signal a major shift of the Iranian vision for the Middle East. The allowance of a foreign military base to not only use an Iranian base but potentially be based inn its territory is unprecedented. This move sends multiple messages to local and global adversaries of Iran and Russia. First, the use of such bases means Russia will now fly directly over Iraqi airspace, which due to its Shiite majority and historical ties, has displayed a strong affinity to the Iranian government. The presence of the ISIS capital in Iraq and Iran’s aid in their fights against them has made this bond stronger. Thus, Russia’s flight over Iraqi territory is a direct signal to the US to cooperate more with Russia on Syria and Iraq as the US ’s influence is being eclipsed from the Levant. Second, it demonstrates Iran and Russia’s commitments to its allies and the extent it will go to in order to ensure its longevity. Finally, perhaps most importantly, Iran has decided to invest in Russia as a long-term ally in the region. It appears Iran accepts Putin’s vision for the region and wants the partnership to strengthen. These ties are only further strengthened with the potential of Turkey joining the partnership and as importantly China’s continued stance to back both Iran and Russia in Syria.


The combination of these factors has pushed the US out of the northern Middle Eastern region. To complicate matters further, the relentless bombing campaign of Saudi Arabia in Yemen on any target, civilian or military, is further eroding support for the US and its allies in the region while increasing Iran’s popularity. In the end, the US might end up with one or two allies in the entire region such as the military dictatorship of Egypt or the fanatical and dictatorial regime of Saudi Arabia, whose own stability is questioned daily. The US’s influence in the region is being eclipsed by both Russia and Iran. The next president of the US must craft a new strategy that will altogether put a stop to this momentous shift in the region or risk losing any influence the US might ever have in the region.

Luis Durani
Luis Durani
Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani