Defense dealings

Russia ‘beholden to Iran’ in Mideast, U.S. Air Force CENTCOM commander warns

Iran has sold hundreds of military drones to Russia. The result could be Russia ‘opening avenues’ for Iran to sow further instability in the Middle East

(Photo by Israeli Defense Forces/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (C), meets with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi (R) at the Nevatim airbase in Be'er Sheva, Israel on November 15, 2022.

Following months of Iranian military equipment sales to Russia for use in Moscow’s war in Ukraine, a top American military official warned on Wednesday that the two nations “have a growing relationship,” and cautioned that “​​Russia is in some way now beholden to Iran.”

As a result, Russia could open avenues for Iran to advance and sow further instability in the Middle East, Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, commander of the 9th Air Force and combined forces air component commander for U.S. Central Command, told reporters. A White House spokesperson said in a statement this month that “the Russia-Iran military partnership appears to be deepening,” citing Iran’s sale of hundreds of attack drones to Russia. 

Grynkewich pointed to Syria, where Russia has maintained a heavy troop presence for years. 

“The Iranians certainly want the coalition to depart from Syria,” Grynkewich said, referring to the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, or ISIS, whose members carry out attacks in Syria against ISIS targets. 

But if coalition partners were to step back from their role in Syria, the Iranians would have “freedom of action to have Iranian-aligned groups move advanced conventional weapons and lethal capabilities across Syria for their own purposes: to threaten Israel or to threaten other interests with whom they disagree,” Grynkewich said. “If they are able to open up avenues where Iran is able to push lethal aid through Syria that threatens Israel, that’s certainly a concern for the United States.” 

But, Grynkewich added, “the Israelis have every right to act in their own defense and the United States has an ironclad commitment to the defense of Israel. And that will continue.”

Like other top American officials, Grynkewich praised the recent renewal of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a deal brokered by China.

“Anything that diffuses tensions in the Middle East I view as a positive trend line,” he said. 

But he also offered a degree of caution about the new partnership, pointing out that Iran is still governed by the same “authoritarian, theocratic regime that is bent on punishing people for very minor transgressions of freedom.”
“My assessment is despite this rapprochement and the general lowering of tensions in the region and some of the good outcomes it would have, the Iranian regime has not changed,” said Grynkewich. “Any regime that is more worried about that, more worried about pushing lethal aid than taking care of its own people, is one that just by its very nature is going to continue to foment instability.”

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