Russian Tu-22M3 bomber

Russian bombers flying from an Iranian airbase have struck targets in Syria, in the first time the Islamic republic has allowed a foreign power to conduct military operations from its territory since the 1979 revolution.

Tu-22М3 long range bombers and SU-34 strike fighters flying from Hamadan airbase in Western Iran struck targets near Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Idlib on Tuesday morning, the Russian ministry of defence said in a statement.

“Flying with full bomb loads from Iran’s Hamadan airbase, the aircraft carried out group attacks on Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra positions,”  the ministry said. Jabhat al-Nusra is the former name of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, a powerful rebel jihadist group previously affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Fighter escorts for the mission flew out of Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in western Syria. All aircraft returned to their respective bases after the mission, the ministry said.

Iranian officials confirmed that the country has offered Russia use of military infrastructure for its air campaign in Syria on Tuesday.

“Cooperation between Tehran and Moscow against terrorism in Syria is of a strategic character. We must unite out potential and capabilities,” Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the country’s IRNA news agency.

Tuesday’s mission is thought to be the first time Russian aircraft have flown missions from Iran since Moscow launched air strikes in Syria in September last year, and potentially marks a major expansion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East.

Moscow’s strategic bombers have previously flown missions over Syria from bases in southern Russia, but the long distances involved have made such missions time consuming and expensive.

“The issue of costs for combat actions is paramount right now, we should stick to the current defence ministry budget,” Admiral Vladimir Komoyedo, an MP and retired commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, told Interfax. “Flying Tu-22s from Iran means less fuel and bigger bomb loads.”

Russian state television showed footage of bombers and a transport aircraft apparently landing in Iran on Tuesday morning, but it is unclear how many aircraft have been deployed or whether they will be based in the country permanently.

Russia and Iran have both provided support for Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime since war broke out in 2011.

Iran is believed to have deployed thousands of troops and auxiliaries to the war torn country over the past few years.

Russia launched air strikes in support of Syrian forces in September 2015, and is also believed to have deployed undisclosed numbers of artillery, tanks, and special forces.