Iran, Azerbaijan on the brink of war, but unlikely to overflow

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Iran has been concentrating troops and heavy vehicles on its border with Azerbaijan for weeks as tensions continue to mount. Several infantrymen, special forces and armored units, as well as several combat aircraft, helicopters and missile systems, are participating in military exercises on the Azerbaijani border.

The “Conquerors of Khaybar”, the name given to the drill, refers to a battle fought by Muhammed, the founder of Islam, against the Jews in 628 CE. This is an obvious reference to Azerbaijan’s close relations with Israel. Not only does Azerbaijan acquire Israeli weapons, many of which were used against the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Mossad has the legal right to operate in the Caucasus country as part of its acts of espionage and espionage against Iran.

In response, the Azeris announced joint military exercises with Turkey between October 5 and 8, dubbed “Indestructible Brotherhood 2021”. Officially, the maneuvers are aimed at improving cooperation and coordination between the ground forces of Turkey and Azerbaijan, but it is also a supposed message to Iran that Azerbaijan is not alone. In fact, Azerbaijan is so confident that one lawmaker even joked that the Pakistani army would invade Tehran if it made a hostile move against Baku, while another lawmaker threatened to cut off Iran’s tail. .

Tensions between Tehran and Baku have been escalating for months now, with no sign of relations improving or stabilizing. On October 5, Azerbaijan closed the Iranian spiritual leader’s office in Baku, a significant move to remind that only Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Bahrain are Shia majority countries out of the 50 majority countries. Muslim across the world.

The closure of the Iranian spiritual leader’s office in Baku was a response to Iran’s closure of airspace to the Azerbaijani Air Force. This is a major decision, as the overflight of Iranian airspace was the most direct route for transporting reinforcements and military supplies to the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic from Azerbaijan proper. The two Azerbaijani territories are separated by the Armenian province of Syunik, hence the need for the Iranian air route. However, in order for Azerbaijan to reach its detached Autonomous Region, it must now take an extended bypass route over Georgia and Turkey. Iran’s move now adds extended travel time, which would be catastrophic if a war breaks out.

In addition, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted on Sunday: “Those who, under the illusion of leaning on others, think they can provide security, know that they will soon be slapped.” The tweet also comes as it becomes known that Azerbaijan will soon acquire a batch of Israeli-made Arrow 3 anti-aircraft and anti-missile missiles.

After rhetorically supporting the joint Azerbaijani-Turkish invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh last year in a gross miscalculation of war intentions and goals, Tehran is now putting pressure on ongoing attempts to close the trade corridor between Iran and Armenia. Azerbaijani authorities recently announced that Iranian trucks heading to the Armenian capital of Yerevan, in addition to paying a transit fee of $ 300, will not be able to travel at night, but only during the day. After the Nagorno-Karabakh war of 2020, Azerbaijan captured part of the road that connects Iran to Yerevan, which is why Iranian Deputy Minister of Transport Kheirollah Khademi visited Armenia on Monday to express Tehran’s financial and technical support for a 400-kilometer transit road linking Iran’s border post from Nordooz to Yerevan, bypassing the territories held by the Azerbaijanis.

From an Iranian perspective, helping Armenia now is also part of their conflict with Israel, a country with which Yerevan has never had good relations, unlike Baku. According to Tehran, Israel has four bases in Azerbaijan. Even though Israel denies having its own bases, the Jewish state actually views Azerbaijan as part of its peripheral strategy – to build alliances with countries close to enemy states.

This wave of exchanges between Iran and Armenia, although the former strongly supported Azerbaijan in a rhetorical manner during last year’s war, is undoubtedly due to the complex dynamics created by the pursuit by Turkey of a neo-Ottoman and ideologically syncretic Pan-Turkish foreign policy. Turks, as well as their cultural and linguistic affinities, are also motivated to strengthen their relations with Azerbaijan so that they can collaborate in the energy field and establish trade corridors with Central Asia.

The confrontation between Iran and Azerbaijan can easily involve not only the Turks, but also the Israelis in a more meaningful way beyond arms sales and intelligence exchange. Tehran is taking a huge risk by threatening war with Azerbaijan as it could rekindle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and drag Armenia, Turkey and possibly even Pakistan.

At the same time, despite all the bravado and confidence of Azerbaijan after defeating a weak Armenian army with the help of Turkey and Syrian mercenaries, Ankara is unlikely to allow a war as they recognize and understand Iran’s military might. While Baku is full of arrogance after last year’s victory, Turkey struggles to keep its economy afloat while maintaining its various military operations in the region. For this reason, a war between Iran and Azerbaijan is unlikely to break out because Turkey, which de facto controls a large part of the Azerbaijani army, will not allow its ally to provoke a war of the the same way it did with Armenia. Unlike Baku, Ankara understands that Iranian power is incomparable to that of Armenia.

READ MORE: Life Among Ghosts: One Year After the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

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