OpinionMiddle East

Is Azerbaijani-Iranian rapprochement realistic?

In the wake of Israeli President Isaac Herzog's visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian rhetoric against Baku has only worsened.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Baku, May 30, 2023. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Baku, May 30, 2023. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
Mordechai Kedar
Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and is an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

As the Islamic Republic of Iran opens its new embassy in Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijani-Iranian relations continue to deteriorate. In recent days, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a warning against Azerbaijani citizens traveling to Iran. This comes as Azerbaijani embassies across the world increase security in the wake of the Iranian threat.

Azerbaijani student Farid Safarli was recently imprisoned in the Islamic Republic after traveling to Tehran to visit his girlfriend. Presently, Safarli faces espionage charges.

Following Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian rhetoric against Baku has only worsened. There have been media reports that Nasser Kananai of Iran’s Foreign Ministry referred to Herzog as the president of the “fake, child-killing and occupying Zionist regime” and slammed Azerbaijan for hosting him.

This comes after the Azerbaijani authorities closed the offices of the Iranian cultural attaché in Baku, declared six Iranian officials to be personae non gratae and gave them 48 hours to leave Azerbaijan. Iran did the same to four Azerbaijani diplomats in Tehran. These latest moves were taken after Iran attacked the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran last International Holocaust Memorial Day, killing a security guard, attempting to assassinate Azerbaijani Parliament member Fazil Mustafa and trying to kill Azerbaijani dissident in the United States Ahmad Obali, along with his son.

Iran’s hatred of Azerbaijan has deep roots. The Iranians despise Azerbaijan for being a majority Shi’ite country that chooses to be secular, modern, tolerant and multicultural. For this reason, the Iranians always backed Armenia in its dispute with Azerbaijan, and are doing everything possible to block a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as such a treaty would lead to Iranian influence decreasing in the region. Furthermore, the Iranians also hate Azerbaijan for building a positive relationship with the State of Israel and opening up a new embassy in Tel Aviv.

The Iranians especially hate the State of Israel. In their eyes, Israel is the “little Satan,” while the United States is the “big Satan.” They are propping up Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in their war against Israel. They believe that Israel should be wiped off the map. They were opposed to the Abraham Accords and every other peace agreement signed between Israel and other Muslim-majority countries.

Recently, it was exposed by the Middle East Media Research Institute that Esmail Ghaani, the head of the Quds Force, sent a letter to the Palestinian terror groups, saying: “I stress once again that the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to use all its abilities and resources to support the Palestinian people and their courageous resistance, and to strengthen the resistance axis until the oppressive Zionist entity is removed from all the lands of blessed Palestine.”

Meanwhile, as the Iranians seek to support and strengthen terror groups that are opposed to Israel, they also want to weaken Azerbaijan and other countries that are at peace with Israel. Since 40% of the Iranian population is of Azerbaijani origin and these people seek to secede from Iran and form an independent South Azerbaijan, the Iranians have even more hatred for Azerbaijan than they have against other Abraham Accords countries, since they view a strong Azerbaijan as a threat to the very existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

After all, a strong Azerbaijan that reclaims Shusha, Fizouli, Aghdam and other cities in Karabakh can one day also reclaim Tabriz and other Azerbaijani cities separated from Azerbaijan unfairly due to the colonial Treaty of Turkmenchay between Qajar Iran and the Russians in 1828.

We also must take into account the Turkish reluctance regarding any rapprochement between Azerbaijan and Iran. This reluctance is a result of Turkic national sentiment, which considers Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Turkic republics of the Russian Federation and Eastern (Chinese) Turkestan (homeland of Uyghurs) to be indivisible parts of the Turkic (“Pan-Turan”) nation. Iran is led by Persians, and hatred between Turks and Persians has deep historic and cultural roots on both sides.

In light of all these reasons, it is unlikely that there will be any sort of rapprochement between Tehran and Baku in the near future.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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