Iran’s provision of drones and military advisers to Russia has called international attention to an alliance that has been evident to those paying attention to the Middle East for at least a decade. While putative experts have tended to express doubts about the depth of Tehran-Moscow ties, citing centuries of conflict between tsarist and Persian imperial ambitions, Oved Lobel points out that these ties began with the Islamic Republic’s inception. Nor are they limited to the Middle East: Lobel identifies cooperation between the Kremlin and the mullahs as stretching from Latin America to Africa to Myanmar.
The relationship between Iran and Russia is neither recent nor transactional. This entirely ideological alliance began before the collapse of the Soviet Union, particularly with the division of Afghanistan in the mid-1980s, and it is strange that until this year, the conventional wisdom continued to stress tensions and differences rather than partnership.
The first Russian move following the collapse of the USSR was the massive sale of arms to Iran, despite severe U.S. pressure and a secret mid-1995 pact between then-Vice-President Al Gore and Russian’s then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to cut off such sales to Iran by 1999 in exchange for not being sanctioned. In 2007, Iran and Russia signed a deal for the S-300 air-defense system, which was ultimately delivered to Iran in 2016.
During the second intifada, it was via Moscow that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a former Soviet proxy, was able to meet with and secure help from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), ultimately resulting in the Karine A affair, in which a massive arms shipment to Palestinian terrorists was intercepted by Israel. Russia continues to maintain ties with all Palestinian terrorist groups, including IRGC clients and proxies like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.