Iran is holding military exercises near the tense border with Azerbaijan


TEHERAN, Iran (AP) – The Iranian national army began exercises near the border with Azerbaijan on Friday, reported state television and showed military capabilities near a neighbor they are increasingly skeptical of about their connections to the West and Israel.

Artillery, drones and helicopters will participate in the exercises, the report said, without explaining how long they last or where exactly they are being held. Iran occasionally holds such events and says it wants to assess combat readiness and demonstrate capabilities.

The exercises take place amid escalating tensions along the border. Iran is particularly suspicious of Azerbaijan because of its deep military cooperation with the Islamic Republic’s arch-rival Israel, and on Thursday expressed its concerns to Azerbaijan’s ambassador in Tehran, Ali Alizadeh.

“We do not tolerate the presence and activity against our national security of the Zionist regime or Israel near our borders,” said Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. “And we will take all necessary measures in this regard.”

Amirabdollahian described Iran-Azerbaijan relations as “important” but insisted that Iran had the “right” to conduct the exercises.

Earlier this week, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in an interview with the Turkish state agency Anadolu that he was stunned by the planned exercises.

Azerbaijan and Israel have strengthened their military alliance in recent months, with high-tech drones supplied by Israel assisting Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region last year.

Tensions with Azerbaijan have also hampered an important border crossing that trucks use to transport fuel and other goods from Iran to Armenia. The Azerbaijani authorities have arrested two Iranian truck drivers in the past few weeks for trying to take the route, which angered Iran.

The chief of the ground forces, General Kioumars Heidari, described the presence of Israel in Azerbaijan as a “security disturbance” in the region, the official IRNA news agency reported on Friday. “Our sensitivity to the border has increased and (Israel’s) activities here are fully monitored by us,” he said during the exercises.

The military exercises come after Azerbaijan first organized joint military exercises with Turkish and Pakistani special forces in September.

The region remains nervous about Iran’s escalating nuclear program. Talks in Vienna to revive Tehran’s 2015 torn agreement with the world powers have stalled since June without a date being set for their resumption.


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