In recent years, Iranian Politician viewed neighboring Azerbaijan as Israel’s proxy, which may explain why Iran called its largest military ground exercise on the Iran-Azerbaijani border âKhyber Conquerorsâ in recent years.
Khyber refers to the door of an ancient Jewish fortress on the Arabian Peninsula that was conquered by Imam Ali, the first Shiite imam. From an Iranian point of view, Azerbaijan is therefore today’s version of the same fortress and its door is the Zangezur Corridor – proposed by Azerbaijan to order associate the rest of the country with its enclave Nakhichevan over Armenia’s southern Syunik region. According to Iranian Hardliners, the crossing could be a gateway for Israel and NATO’s direct entry into the Caucasus and would therefore violate the territorial integrity of Armenia and also threaten Iran.
The 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which led to the recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh from Yerevan by Bakus, had significant consequences for Tehran. Contrary to expectations, Iran provided political and military support to Azerbaijan during the war – due to the sizeable Azerbaijani minority that includes the country’s Supreme Leader – rather than Armenia, despite Iran’s long geopolitical ties with Yerevan. This was in part because Iran accepted Baku’s military superiority over Armenia. Still, a year after a ceasefire was declared, defense, security and geopolitical developments in the region have developed in a way that has angered Tehran.
The military exercises by the Iranian armed forces in Khyber on October 1 on the 700-kilometer north-western border with Azerbaijan only increased tensions. The story began when Baku imposed a “road tax” and arrested two Iranian truck drivers entering the Nagorno-Karabakh region – a route truck drivers must take to bring fuel and goods to Armenia.
The war games were supposedly arranged afterwards Comments made by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to the Turkish Anadolu Agency on September 28th. During the interview, Aliyev accused Iran of violating Azerbaijan’s sovereignty by hiding the identity of the Iranian trucks going into Armenia. To support his claims, Aliyev cited satellite, drone and ground images of “illegal” Iranian actions. This interview came while Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Turkey were conducting military exercises in Baku on September 12th.
After the news of the Iranian military maneuvers on its border, the first since the fall of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev said called: âEvery country can conduct any military exercise on its own territory. It is their sovereign right. But why now and why at our border? “
The military exercises
The ground forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) guided a tactical practice on the border by deploying hundreds of combat battalions, including infantry, missile artillery, and armored and electronic combat units. The ground forces were deployed in less than 48 hours, given the fact that they arrived from numerous provinces. It was also a very unusual deployment, as divisions and combat units are typically deployed from the same area as the military exercises. When the IRGC announced the end of the military exercise, it left the combat battalions in the border area on standby.
The Iranian campaign has sent a fiery message to Azerbaijan on the first anniversary of the Nagorno-Karabakh War. It was also exceptional in that the exercise did not appear to be the traditional way of testing new equipment. In contrast to the official military statement, Iran did not need to send large armored, mechanized and infantry units to the region. Furthermore, unlike the dispatch of these forces, there is no news of the return of the combat battalions to the provinces in which they belong. It can therefore be concluded that the real aim was to use the military force necessary for a possible armed conflict under the guise of a military exercise.
Tehran’s main concern about Azerbaijan is the increasing military capabilities provided by its patrons Israel and Turkey. This changes the geostrategic balance to the detriment of Iran. Tehran is also concerned that if Azerbaijan succeeds in forcing the Zangzur Corridor on the Armenian government, Baku could easily be overland connected to Turkey, Israel and the European Union, thereby excluding Iran from its transit equations. Iran sees this as a further expansion of the presence of Israel and NATO on its borders and an undermining of Iran’s relations with Armenia.
On September 30th, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told Azerbaijan’s new ambassador to Tehran that Iran has the right to hold war games on the border, adding: âWe do not tolerate the presence and activities of the Zionist regime against our national security near our borders and we will take all necessary measures in this regard seize. âSabotage attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and the murder of its nuclear scientists – most recently Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020 – are largely attributed to Israel. Azerbaijan disputed the accusations.
Similar Comments were made by the commander of the ground forces of the Iranian army, General Kioumars Heidari. “Since the arrival of this regime, our sensitivity to this border has increased and their activities here are fully under our surveillance,” Heydari said, referring to Israel. He also noted that Iran was concerned about “terrorist forces entering the region from Syria,” an obvious indication of Reports that Turkey has recruited jihadists to help Baku in Nagorno-Karabakh. Heydari claimed Iran was unsure whether these groups had left the Caucasus.
On October 5th, Azerbaijan allegedly closed a mosque and office in Baku associated with the Supreme Leader of Iran.
Why Iran is concerned
The high self-confidence of the Azerbaijani authorities today, the coldness of the Tehran-Yerevan relations due to the Iranian support of Baku during the The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the growing influence of Turkey and Israel in the Caucasus have Iranians Officer concerned about the possibility of limited conflict in the region that would drag northwest Iran into sectarian warfare – possibly due to the disruption of Armenia’s land links with Iran. However, this situation results from the lack of a clear and planned defense policy by Iran in border areas such as the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
It is unclear to what extent the new Ebrahim Raisi government and the Supreme National Security Council can formulate a clear defense and security policy in view of the security challenge with Azerbaijan. What is clear, however, is the possibility of an aggressive defense and foreign policy, as tensions in the Middle East and the Caucasus are much higher than last year. Although there is a new prime minister in Israel, its security policy towards Iran has not changed. The destruction of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure due to allegedly covert Israeli actions has increased the risk of Iranian retaliation against Israeli citizens and their interests in the Middle East. This would surely explain why Iranian officials keep talking of their intention to fend off the Israeli threat in the Caucasus.
Abbas Qaidari is a researcher for international security and defense policy. Follow him on Twitter: @AbbasQaidari.