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Will Iran-Azerbaijan tensions continue to escalate?

The mullahs are seeking to punish Azerbaijan for its warm relations with Israel.

Missiles of the armed forces of Iran, Sept. 9, 2019. Credit: Saeediex/Shutterstock.
Missiles of the armed forces of Iran, Sept. 9, 2019. Credit: Saeediex/Shutterstock.
Israeli Minister of Communications Ayoob Kara.
Ayoob Kara

Recently, an Iranian warplane violated Azerbaijani airspace, prompting Baku to summon the Iranian ambassador.

“The flight of a military aircraft for more than half an hour near the territories of Azerbaijan is a provocation and unfriendly behavior towards Azerbaijan,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We strongly condemn the Iranian side for such a provocative step, call on them to provide an appropriate explanation and refrain from such provocative steps in the future.”

The incident came after Iran held military exercises along the Azerbaijani border; opened up a consulate in Kapan, Armenia, a sensitive area for Azerbaijanis; was caught operating an espionage network in Azerbaijan; and attacked the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran, killing a senior security official. All of this occurred after Baku announced that it was opening an embassy in the State of Israel. Coincidence? I think not.

The mullahs in Tehran routinely and systematically chant “death to Israel” and refer to Israel as “the little Satan.” They view Israel as their number-one enemy together with the United States. However, America is far away, while Israel is within reach of Iranian missiles. For this reason, the Iranians seek to encircle Israel with enemies in Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and other places, so it will be difficult for Israel to go after Iran’s nuclear program, which is intended to wipe Israel off the map.

As a result, the Iranians are strongly opposed to any action that would strengthen Israel. The recent declaration that Azerbaijan will open an embassy in Israel, together with the large amount of Israeli weapons shipments to Azerbaijan, are actions that strengthen Israel. These strong military ties with Azerbaijan, a country that borders Iran, is especially bothersome to the mullahs.

For this reason, the mullahs are threatening Azerbaijan. IRGC Navy Commander Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said on Al Alam TV that “when they bring Zionists to their countries, we will retaliate twofold and crush any area where plots against Iran’s interests originate. These are not just slogans, but practical measures.” Hence, the attack upon the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran and the recent Iranian violation of Azerbaijani airspace are only the tip of the iceberg regarding what can be expected from a deterioration in Azerbaijani-Iranian relations.

Since the conclusion of the Second Karabakh War, Iranian-Azerbaijani relations have been deteriorating because the strengthening of Azerbaijan has led to the weakening of Iran in the Caucasus. Iran is facing a situation in which they are literally being cut off from Armenia, which is the Iranian regime’s life-support as it faces international sanctions due to its brutal suppression of Iran’s domestic protest movement.

This is especially the case as Azerbaijan discusses the construction of the Zangezur Corridor, which will connect Azerbaijan with its Nachshivan enclave and cut Iran off from most of Armenia. This move has generated a great deal of hostility towards Azerbaijan in Tehran. As Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated, “Iran considers the security of Armenia and the region to be its security.”

Tensions between Baku and Tehran can only be expected to escalate, especially considering the fact that 40% of the Iranian population is ethnic Azerbaijani and the majority of them want to secede from Iran, creating an independent South Azerbaijan. They are sick and tired of being repressed for seeking to work and be educated in their mother tongue. Historically, they had their own country, but were brutally forced to become part of Iran against their will.

Ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran have been protesting and demanding their freedom. Instead of acknowledging their own failings, which caused the Iranian protest movement, the mullahs have blamed foreign actors, including Azerbaijan and Israel, for the domestic unrest in Iran. So long as this remains the case, the flames will continue to blaze between Iran and Azerbaijanis, with South Azerbaijanis demanding their freedom with more vigor than ever, and Baku and Jerusalem supporting them in their quest for national self-determination.

Ayoob Kara served as Israel’s minister of communications.

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