What Does Israel’s President Visit to Azerbaijan Mean for Iran and the Region?

 

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog visited Azerbaijan marking the first state visit by an Israeli head of state to the secular Shiite Muslim country that shares a 670-kilometer border with Iran.

The visit, which coincided with the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence, aimed to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries in various fields, including health care, cyber security and defense. Herzog met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and praised the level of love and affection that exists between the two nations. He also invited Aliyev to visit Israel in return.

The visit came at a time when Azerbaijan and Iran are at odds over several issues, such as the status of ethnic Azeris in Iran, the opening of an Iranian consulate in Armenia, and the alleged involvement of Iran in attacks against both countries in recent months. Azerbaijan has accused Iran of supporting Armenia in the 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory that was reclaimed by Azerbaijan with the help of Israeli drones and weapons. Iran has denied the accusations and expressed concern over the presence of foreign forces near its borders.

Israel and Azerbaijan have a close defense relationship that dates back to the early 1990s, when Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, Israel has become Azerbaijan’s main supplier of arms and technology, accounting for 69% of its arms imports in 2016-2020. Azerbaijan is also one of Israel’s main sources of oil, providing about 40% of its petroleum imports.

The visit also reflected a new level of openness and cooperation between the two countries, which had been mostly discreet and low-profile in the past for fear of alienating other Muslim-majority states or provoking Iran. However, following the Abraham Accords and Israel’s rapprochement with Turkey, Azerbaijan decided to open its embassy in Israel for the first time in March 2023. The move was seen as a signal to Iran and other regional actors that Azerbaijan values its ties with Israel and is not afraid to show it.

Iran, on its part, has reacted with suspicion and paranoia to the growing Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance. On the eve of Herzog’s visit, Tehran reported that it had arrested 14 members linked to Israel who were seeking to identify and assassinate various individuals. A week earlier, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence said it had dismantled a network connected to a foreign intelligence service that monitored individuals who had access to sensitive material or were in charge of various positions in the nation’s sensitive organizations.

Iran has also accused Israel of using Azerbaijan as a base for gathering intelligence on Iran and preparing for possible future attacks. Iran views Israel as its arch-enemy and has repeatedly threatened to destroy it. Israel has also carried out covert operations and cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities and military assets.

Armenia and Iran Amplify Diplomatic and Military Relations Against Common Threats

On October 21, the Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan welcomed his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at the Foreign Ministry and was apparently pleased with the Iranian Foreign Minister’s acknowledgment of Armenia’s security interests at the same level as Iran’s own and his clear assertion that Iran would not tolerate any tampering with the current Armenia-Iran border.

Not only that, on the same day he inaugurated a new Iranian consulate in Kapan, which lies in the Syunik province lying along the Armenia-Iran border and which links Azerbaijan with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have been pressing Armenia to allow them land transit access along Syunik, which Armenia has not accepted. Within this context, the Iranian Foreign Minister’s statement was heard clearly across Armenia’s borders in Baku, Ankara, and Moscow, as was intended.

Decoding the Armenia-Iran-Azerbaijan Triangle

Despite being an Islamic republic, having strong ethnic Armenian and Azeri communities within Iran, and having borders with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Iran has traditionally enjoyed warmer relations with Armenia, for a variety of reasons. It alleges that Azerbaijan has irredentist aspirations towards Iran’s Azeri provinces, supports secessionist forces, and refers to the provinces as Southern Azerbaijan in the local media. Azerbaijan’s close relations with Israel and Turkey also make Iran anxious about its intentions in the region.

Azerbaijan harbors similar suspicions and complaints against Iran for running anti-Azerbaijani propaganda, sponsoring Hezbollah activities in Azerbaijan, and conducting covert operations to weaken the Azerbaijani state.

Iran has always viewed Armenia as a more reliable partner in the Caucuses and it is its only gateway into the region. Due to this, Iran is against any moves by Azerbaijan and Turkey to acquire a land corridor through Armenia that would disconnect the two allies. While it accepted Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, it is wary of Azerbaijan’s expansionist plans.

Armenia Seeks Iranian Drones to Maintain Military Parity with Azerbaijan

According to some media reports, a senior Iranian military official, Major General Yahia Rahim Safavi, has revealed that Armenia is interested in purchasing Iran’s military drones to bridge the military imbalance with Azerbaijan. Naturally, Iran would be glad to help its ally boost up its defense capabilities against an unfriendly neighbor.

Iran has supplied Russia with at least three types of drones—the Mohajer-6 which has a 200-km range, the Shahed-129 which travels up to 450 km, and the Shahed-191, which goes up to 2000 km. Despite no official word from the two countries, Ukraine claims to have shot down and captured several Mohajer-6 drones coming in from Russia to drop payloads over Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

Can Iranian Drones Match Up to Azerbaijan’s Turkish Drones?

Both Ukraine and Azerbaijan are among the biggest buyers of Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 military drones. These drones have been credited for playing an instrumental role in Azerbaijan’s decisive victory over Armenia in the 2020 conflict and helping Ukraine resist the Russian invasion in 2022. In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan’s fleet of TB2 drones was responsible for destroying nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s inventory of military equipment. The Ukrainian Air Force has officially confirmed only two successful attacks on Russian targets using the TB2 drones.

Given these facts, it is unlikely that the addition of Iranian drones to Armenia’s arsenal will put Azerbaijan on the back foot.

Russia will also be watching the developments closely as they affect key allies Iran and Armenia and involve Turkey—its key rival in the Black Sea—as well. Moscow is the primary guarantor of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and has become alerted to European efforts to increase diplomatic influence in the Caucuses and tap into its vast gas reserves.

Albania Severs Diplomatic Ties with Iran – What is it Really About?

On September 7, Albania announced its decision to sever diplomatic ties with Iran, giving all Iranian embassy staff 24 hours to leave the country. Staff at the Iranian embassy in Tirana rushed to vacate the premises and to secure or destroy all confidential documents. After the staff had left, the embassy building, situated barely 200 meters away from the Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office, was searched thoroughly by the counter-terrorism police for more than 30 minutes.

The Official Statement and Its Fallout

The official statement from Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama terms the decision as an ‘extreme response’ but one that is ‘fully proportionate’ to what the Albanian government believes was a well-planned and orchestrated cyberattack against the country’s government agencies by groups linked to Iran in July this year.

Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama. EPA Photo

 

The United States and the United Kingdom have supported Albania’s decision, with the American National Security Advisor issuing a statement in support of Prime Minister Edi Rama and calling him up a day later. Iran has retorted to the Albanian accusations by calling them ‘baseless’ and deriding the government’s decision to sever diplomatic ties as ‘shortsighted’.

So what is happening and how have events reached such a high level of intensity?

Hosting the Mojahein-e-Khalq (MEK) at American Behest

Since 2016, Albania has been hosting the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a leftist guerilla group that was formed in Iran in 1965 in opposition to the Pahlavi regime and played a crucial part in ultimately overthrowing the Shah. After the 1978 Islamic Revolution, the MEK became a stiff opponent of the new government.

Iran has blamed the MEK for orchestrating terrorist attacks against Iranian citizens and interests, eventually banning the group in 1981 and designating it as a terrorist organization, after which the MEK shifted base to neighboring Iraq, then ruled by the anti-Iran dictator Saddam Hussein. In fact, a report published by the Iranian NGO Habilian Association in 2020, documents nearly 17,000 terrorism deaths of Iranian citizens since 1979, out of which the MEK is held directly responsible for 12,000.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom also designated the MEK as a terrorist organization in 1997 and 2001, respectively, only to revoke it in 2012 and 2008. With the coming of a pro-Iranian government in Iraq after 2003, the MEK ultimately set up its headquarters in Albania, a NATO member, under an arrangement facilitated by the US. Initially headquartered in the capital Tirana, the MEK now operates out of the western town of Manez.

Despite Albania’s decision to host the MEK being a clear provocation to Iran and an act of disregard for its national and security interests, Iran has rarely allowed this issue to come in the way of its rocky but sustained diplomatic ties with Albania.

Iranian Concerns and Rejection of Albanian Allegations

The recent decision, however, appears to have exceeded Iran’s patience. It has rejected Albania’s accusation that Iran sponsored four groups of hackers to launch a coordinated cyberattack on the country’s online government services on July 15, threatening the security of government records, public services, and confidential communication.

In fact, Iran alleges that the so-called ‘in-depth investigation’ that Albania claims to have carried out with support from American agencies, carries no weight. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Kanaani, has called out both the US and UK of earlier turning a blind eye to cyberattacks launched against Iranian systems, going so far as to suggest that such attackers enjoyed direct or indirect support from the two western powers.

Global Pressure Tactics

The Iranian government also believes that Albania’s decision might be part of a well-orchestrated tactic to embarrass Iran globally and increase international pressure on it at a time when Iranian negotiators are working with the EU and the Biden administration for the resumption of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

Relations between Iran and Albania have been historically strained by the latter’s previous alignment with the Soviet Union and then, following its collapse, with the United States and NATO. The latest move is indeed an ‘extreme step’ aimed at bringing the Iranian regime under greater international pressure to comply with American demands.

Exclusive Report of The Caucasus Center – Any form of its republishing need credit of The Caucasus Center for Strategic and Int’l Studies (CCSIS). 

The Caucasus Conflict: Why Azerbaijani Lavy Taxes from Iranian Trucks What Next?

The Caucasus Conflict: Azerbaijani Lavy Taxes from Iranian Trucks What Next?

The Caucasus Center is launching its special series of analyses on the Iran-Azerbaijan emerging border conflict. We will publish the various possible simulations in the coming weeks. We are going to closely monitor the situation and publish the objective analysis.

If you are interested to submit your Simulation, you can send us at eamil:

info AT thecaucasuscenter DOT org and we will publish it with your name and title.

Don’t forget to send your full name, email address, phone, and title.

The Caucasus Center

South Caucasus: Tension Rising between Azerbaijan and Iran borders

Iran and Azerbaijan border conflict getting international attention after the news of both countries’ military drills activities near their borders. Iran is concerned with the Azerbaijan regional emergence as a tiny oil-rich state that is heavily equipped with Israeli sophisticated weapons and Turkish drones.

Initially, Azerbaijan started its military drills with its Turkish and Pakistani counterparts. Azerbaijan also detained two Iranian drivers and blocks Trucks’ entry towards Armenia. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on Thursday expressed disappointment over the inappropriate treatment toward Iranian truck drivers and the arrest of two of them by Azerbaijani border guards.

However more recently Azerbaijani national protest outside Iranian Embassy in Baku sparked serious concerns in Tehran.  Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Abbas Mousavi on Friday strongly condemned the provocative acts by some Azerbaijani nationals against the Iranian Embassy in Baku on Thursday night.

In recent weeks series of meeting from the Ambassador level to the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan and Iran took place to resolve their difference. Both the countries are trying to downplay their internal rifts.

In South Caucasus two leading power players are Russia and Iran. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state always been under the heavy influence of Moscow. But more recently after the Nagorno-Karabakh War-II, Baku confidence surprised regional and international players. It seems that a policy shift has been deliberately trying to implement by regional players in the South-Caucasus region.

Turkish footprints in South Caucasus are not acceptable either for Russia or Iran. So, Turkey is continuously involved in Azerbaijan and emerged as a major leading supporter and arms supplier to Baku in the Nagorno-Karabakh war-II.

Turkish direct intervention in the South Caucasus region is a serious risk and posing a threat to the other countries. It’s triggering a race of arms and ammunition competition in the region. Turkey’s intentions are clear to make a Turkish-speaking countries bloc that is not acceptable to any of the neighbors near Iran and Russia.

It’s a reality that Iran is one of the leading powers in the South Caucasus. Iran has no military comparison with Azerbaijan because Iran’s combat capacity is much more than Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is a leading buyer of Israeli weapons. For Iran to accept a country that has been heavily equipped with Israeli weapons next to its border is a major concern.

Iran sending a message to Azerbaijan through these military drills that they would not accept an “Azerbaijan” that can pose a challenge to its neighbors in near future.

Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said at a meeting with Azerbaijan’s new ambassador “We do not tolerate the presence and activity against our national security of the Zionist regime next to our borders and will take any necessary action in this regard,”.

To win a war from Armenia does not mean Azerbaijan becomes a regional player. Though Azerbaijan comes in limelight after the Nagorno-Karabakh war if there is a sense of overconfidence that means it led Baku to some very unexpected and awkward situations.

So, to become a proxy of Israel and the United States (US) in the South Caucasus would not be a wise enough move for Azerbaijan.

For Azerbaijan, any miscalculation of strength about Iran’s power could cause serious repercussions.

 

 

 

Qatar blurs regional powers to diffuse Iran-US conflict

Qatar once more takes the lead as a mediator in the recent crisis that engulfed the Middle East after the targeted assassination of Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who was targeted by the US drone strike at Baghdad’s International Airport on 3rd January 2020.

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s visit to Iran directly after the incident of Soleimani’s killing is being seen as a very serious and wise diplomatic move by the Qatari side to reduce the tension in the region.

For the last decade, Qatar has been playing a responsible and mature role in resolving the regional and global conflicts towards peaceful solutions and has a very solid stance on the implementation of international law. On one side, Qatar has been facing air, sea and land blockade from its neighboring Gulf States including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE since 2017 but playing a very positive and responsible role in diffusing tension between major power players.

Despite the face of numerous challenges from the neighboring states, Qatar is getting the status of the most favorite state in the Middle East compared to any other country and it is because of equal treatment on part of Qatar towards all the other countries in the region and across the world.

The difference between Qatar’s diplomacy and the other GCC members is that Qatar used to engage other countries into dialogue and negotiations on the grounds of equality without resorting to hegemonic mantra, however, some other states in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia used the policy of supremacy and dominance and try to exploit the other states with its influence.

Qatar is getting huge leverage due to its diversified diplomatic style and moving successfully to become a regional and global hub for its diplomacy, dialogue, and diversity.

Qatar’s shuttle diplomacy towards the de-escalation in the Middle East and its emerging role as a mediator, proving a successful episode in diffusing tension not only between Iran and the USA but also played an effective role in bringing all the stakeholders at the negotiable table for peace in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited Iraq and met his counterpart is another serious effort from Qatar in defusing tension among all parties towards restraint.

Kuala Lumpur Summit Aftermaths- A New Muslim Bloc in the making

A new Muslim country’s bloc is being seen in the making while witnessed a number of developments in the aftermath of the Kaula Lumpur Summit gesturing that there is a very strong desire for new leadership for the Muslim world.

The Muslim world needs a new Muslim’s order for the presentation of better counter-narrative, existing challenges and to combat the increasing threat of Islamophobia.

The dynamics of the Muslim world are changing very fast. Qatar, Turkey, and Malaysia are gearing up for the unity of the Muslim countries; however, Saudi Arabia feeling afraid of losing its hegemonic control. The KL Summit is likely the act to spurn the hold of the few Muslim countries’ overall on the Muslims world.

Unfortunately, those few countries who are claiming to have a hold on the entire Muslim world badly exploited the less developed Muslim states for their own interests and for the sake of the pro-western agenda.

Kuala Lumpur Summit was actually an effort to unite the divided Muslim world but the propaganda against the KL summit in its aftermath is actually exposing the fear of so-called Muslim countries who foresees their monopoly ending.

The recent Kuala Lumpur Summit is actually the first major gesture towards this new episode of the new Muslim world order. A new Islamic bloc is being anticipated to solve the challenges of the Muslim countries and to give the confidence of the depressed Muslim countries is the need of the hour.

The End of Saudi Hegemony

Malaysian Prime Minister calls for the Muslim world to get united after the assassination of the Qasem Solemini is another powerful stance from any Muslim country that scared the Saudi Arabia hegemony.

Saudi Arabia’s leadership specifically the crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman thinks that the control of Saudis is losing rapidly in the region and especially in the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia did not want to get independent in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Qatar is a very good example that how Saudis made its blockage and try to use all its influence to let it down but as they pushed, Qatar emerged as a global hub and more interactive to the world.

There is an increasing debate among the Muslims countries that whenever west want to implant their agenda or policies they implement through Saudi Arabia or its close allies.

So the Saudi hegemony is ending fast under the current circumstances and the existing policies of the kingdom leadership. After the successful show of the Kuala Lumpur Summit with the presence of three major Muslim states, experts are predicting a domino effect, which is going to end the theological and political grip of the oil-rich kingdom on Muslim governments.

Malik Ayub Sumbal is a Geopolitical Analyst, Commentator. He also President and Founder of The Caucasus Center for Strategic and International Studies (CCSIS). Malik tweets @ayubsumbal  

Soleimani’s assassination triggers US-Iran standoff

Amidst an environment of a tense standoff between Iran and the US since the last couple of months, the United States assassinated high-ranking Iranian military and intelligence official Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport on Friday morning along with several other Iran-backed officials operating in Iraq.

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani is being anticipated as the most aggressive action, which could trigger the US and Iran towards a possible state of war by exposing the region to alarming tragedy.

Both sides are making vengeful statements with objectives to undermine each other with severe consequences. Iran warned of the severe avenge of the killing of a senior commander of the IRGC’s Quds Forces Major General Qasem Soleimani. Being the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani was considered as the architect of the nation’s military, intelligence operations, and a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On other side, the US used to tag Qasem Suleimani as a terrorist and one of the world’s most dangerous men, aiding Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad in the Syrian Civil war and causing the deaths of hundreds of Americans during the Iraq war.

US engagements in the region during the last two decades witnessed the fact that US administration including Donald Trump and his predecessors are experts in solving one problem by creating another big mess in the region. In this scenario, statements from the US president following the assassination of Qasem Suleimani that the targeted action against Qasem Soleimani was initiated “to stop a war, not to start one” seems hilarious.

Donald Trump has pushed the US towards an unending rivalry and conflict by Killing Qasem Soleimani by opening a new Pandora box in the region. The International strategists and analysts are seeing the decision of strike of US Administration as a plethora to divert attention from the internal crisis faced by Trump and his administration.

The killing of Qasem Soleimani became international headlines in the global media for the last two days. Donald Trump played Iran card for his elections and to get rid of its impeachment crisis but this Iran card leads the US towards a major watershed.

Donald Trump old tweets about using Iran cards for Obama haunted him and widely discussed and shared on social media. Following the assassination of Qasem Suleimani, some elements in the US are praising Donald Trump for the death of Soleiman, while some others are condemning the action for escalating already fraught tensions. It is too early to gauge the intensity of possible consequences and implications of the assassination of Qasem Suleiman; however, the US administration has to come out with more solid justifications this time for its actions.

Donald Trump does not need enemies while making such kind of decisions. The warmongering rhetoric of Donald Trump has multiplied the intensity of tension between the US and Iran. Donald Trump has made several tweets by justifying his stance on Qasem Soleimani’s killing. His repeated tweets gestured that he is well aware of any expected reaction from Iran. Trump is trying hard to downplay the killing of Qasem Soleimani that does not seem possible in a country like Iran.

Iran has made up its mind to react following the assassination of powerful men of Iran in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport. Iran has categorically warned for retaliation to avenge the murder of Soleiman by pointing out that time and the target will be told by the time.

Iran Foreign Minister Javed Zarif started meeting with his various counterparts for their future strategy on Qasem Soleimani. There has been huge curiosity around the world that what kind of reaction is being expected from Iran in the aftermath of Qasem Soleimani killing by the US.

Donald Trump put the US into the worst snare by jeopardizing US national security by killing Qasem Soleimani. Donald Trump has negated all his previous policies and strategies on the Middle East for he used to criticize Obama and his administration.

The killing of Qasem Soleimani will prove to be a major setback for Trump’s elections as thousands of Americans have also come to roads in New York against war hysteria of Trump administration.

Iran’s strategic partners will support Iran at this stage when they engineered a new battlefield for the US to engage it for more skirmishes to weak US defense sector and waste its more capital in the region.

On the other side, millions of people moved to roads to attend funeral prayers for Qasem Soleiman in Iraq and Iran and to honor Commander Qasem Soleimani, which hinted at the fact that the situation is not as rosy as depicted by US administration. The consequences are going to be exposed with Iranian rhetoric that Iran has made up its mind to avenge the assassination of Qasem Soleiman and in this connection, till filing of this report, the missile was reportedly fired at base camp in Iraq housing US soldiers with confirmation of news regarding injuries of US troops.

Malik Ayub Sumbal is Geopolitical Analyst, Commentator and Columnist. He is also Founder of The Caucasus Center for Strategic and International Studies (CCSIS). He tweets @ayubsumbal