Access to these airbases would make it easier for Israel to strike the Islamic Republic of Iran, which many say is seeking to develop nuclear technology. According to a report published by Foreign Policy on March 29, Israel has gained access to airbases in southern Azerbaijan, bordering Iran.
Reacting to the news published in FP, Azerbaijan denied the allegations, calling them untrue. In an interview with AFP, Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense spokesman Teymur Abdullayev said the claims seek to “damage relations between Azerbaijan and Iran,” adding that “there will be no actions against Iran … from the territory of Azerbaijan.”
In an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Rovshan Ibrahimov, the head of department of foreign policy analysis of the Baku-based Strategic Research Center, operating under the Presidency of the Republic of Azerbaijan, called the article, written by FP’s Mark Perry, irresponsible and based on falsehoods and an incomplete analysis.
“Israel is interested in dragging the US into a long-awaited war with Iran,” said Ibrahimov. “The target is to have Azerbaijan play an active role in any possible war in the region.” Ibrahimov reiterated the official stance of Azerbaijan, stating that the country will be neither a political nor a military platform for any third country against its neighbor, Iran.
Azerbaijan regularly states that it will maintain its neutrality if any conflict erupts in the region, referring to the probable conflict in the region between its strategic partner, Israel, and Iran. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev reiterated Azerbaijan’s stance during his official visit to the Iranian capital, where the senior Azerbaijani official publicly rejected any possible use of Azerbaijani soil for a strike against Iran. “The Republic of Azerbaijan, as has always been the case in the past, will never permit any country to use its land or air against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which we consider our brother and a friendly country,” Abiyev said during a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
Talking to Sunday’s Zaman, Benedetta Berti, associate fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), says the main issue is not Azerbaijan giving permission for the use of its airfields to strike Iran or whether there will be any attack against Iran, but whether the US will give its OK to the military strike.
“The recent leaks regarding Azerbaijan’s airfields point to the fact that Israel could have found a way to make its military operation against Iran easier,” says Berti, adding that the ultimate decision to go to war is not linked to tactical or logistical issues, but to political will.
Berti believes Israel will act even if Washington stands opposed to the operation. “It will depend on the Israeli assessment of the threat and on the role played by the US,” she says.
Jonathan Levack, a program officer with the foreign policy program of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance in the region can theoretically increase the risk of an Israeli strike on Iran. However, he thinks it would reduce some of the operational challenges Israel might face. Assessing Azerbaijan’s assistance to any Israeli strikes on Iran, Levack says the risk of a strike on Iran is speculation at this stage. “The most important factors governing a potential Israeli strike against Iran are the Israelis’ perception of security, or more to the point insecurity, the current US administration’s ability to persuade Tel Aviv that military action is unwise and the US presidential election,” he says.
Israeli airfields in Azerbaijan may affect Turkish-Azerbaijani relations
Turkey and Azerbaijan enjoy common cultural, linguistic and ethnic ties with a close and cordial relationship based on a strategic alliance. They are considered “brotherly countries” due to this ethnic kinship. Both countries enjoy good economic and political cooperation based on blossoming bilateral relations.
Baku is developing its relations with Israel based on a bilateral military deal signed in February which supplies $1.6 billion in arms, including anti-aircraft and missile defense systems, from Israel to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is in fact at war with its neighbor Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent territories that were occupied by Armenia in 1992-1994, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were engaged in a full-fledged armed conflict. Turkey came to Azerbaijan’s defense by closing its border with Armenia in a symbolic show of support.
Azerbaijan has so far been very careful in this respect, trying to keep good and balanced relations with both Turkey and Israel.
However, Berti thinks that the recent rumors regarding Israel’s access to airfields and the disclosure of the arms deal may upset this balance. “Turkey is not pleased about these developments, especially as the country has an interest in defusing the potential of a war against Iran,” says Berti. However, the expert is skeptical whether there is going to be a short-term crisis in the region, adding that Turkey is closely watching what happens in Azerbaijan. “The prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran from Azerbaijani airfields would make the relations between the two countries very tense,” claimed Berti.