Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have presented a series of warning signs. Recently, Iranian media claimed of “Zionist presence” at the Iran-Azerbaijan border. This accusation came in response to claims made by the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, regarding the military presence and subsequent drills conducted at the borders, by the Iranian army. Aliyev had said, “Every country can conduct military drill, it’s their sovereign right. But why now and why on our border?” He called the action “a very surprising event”. The biggest speculations from Tehran are regarding Israel’s diplomatic ties with Baku, which is considered to be a threat by Iran. The drills conducted by Tehran signal the recent escalations at the borders.
Iran’s allegations and actions indicate a carefully strategised plan so as to not evoke more tension with Baku. This is similar to a previous scenario when Iran informed pro-Iranian militants in Iraq of a drone attack by Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s efforts to improve relations with Israel portray their inherent desire to become a pioneer in drone power. Reportedly, internal sources have claimed that Baku has bought billions of dollars worth of weapons instead of providing the Jewish state with oil. This includes the transfer of Israel-made drones in recent decades, making Azerbaijan a strong defence powerhouse. The progress in the defense part made Baku show off and boasts regarding their drone efficiency. Recently surfaced videos show the IAI Harop aircraft in launch formation on the backs of trucks, demonstrated by the Azeri president, Ilham Aliyev.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of the Iraqi paramilitary group Kata’ib Hezbollah, claimed in 2019 that they have accurate evidence regarding the American-made Israeli drones with Azerbaijan, with an intention to attack and target an Iraqi military base. According to a report by the Guardian in 2019, Shia militants said that Israel is using drones from Azerbaijan to attack the north and central regions of Iraq. These regions are the transit points of sending weapons to Iran against Israel. Previously, various attempts were made by Tehran to attack Israel-linked allies. This includes attacks on the shipping ports off the coast of Oman. Iran reportedly used drones to kill two people on one of the ships.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed, “We do not tolerate active presence of Zionist regime in Azerbaijan against Iran.” He completely dismissed allegations put forward by the Azeri president regarding the border activities and said that the drills by the military were conducted according to the framework of Iran’s sovereignty. In an interview given to a Turkish news agency, the president of Azerbaijan claimed, “We respect our sovereign rights and non interference in our internal matters.” He denied the presence of Israel and asked those with doubts to come directly to the borders of the region to check for foreign presence.
The tension between both the territories started brewing when Azerbaijan won the war against Armenia in September 2020 over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The war that lasted over six weeks claimed over 6,000 lives. Initially, Tehran provided the war supplies to Armenia and also lent a silent backup of military support. Baku’s arms deal with Israel stirred new tensions between Israel and Armenia. Armenia has criticised Azerbaijan since 2016 for deploying Israeli made attack drones and using it against them. Things changed after Karabakh became an integral part of Azerbaijan. Baku imposed road tax on illegal Iranian trucks supplying goods to Armenia. The route was part of Armenian-occupied Karabakh, connecting Iran with Russia and West Asia. After the war of 2020, Karabakh became a province of Azerbaijan. This brought all the trade activities under the surveillance of customs. Baku thinks that the Iranian trucks might have military equipment that may end up in Armenian hands. Lately, Azerbaijan has also conquered the Zangezur corridor. This has made a new link between Turkey and Azerbaijan, which in fact has contributed to the adding tension in Iran.