TEHRAN – In the latest sign of misplaced overconfidence, Azerbaijani officials have launched a barrage of criticism against Iran simply because it quietly and diplomatically protested an Azerbaijani decision to tax Iranian commercial trucks passing through an Azerbaijani road curve.
This overconfidence on the part of the Republic of Azerbaijan has largely led Iran to stage its largest military exercise in decades to make Baku understand that messing up with Iran’s national interests in the south Caucasus region has its price. The ground forces of Iran’s Army carried out one of their largest movements during a military drill meaningfully dubbed “the Conquerors of Khaybar” along Iran’s borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The military drill was accompanied by a media counter-attack from Iran after some Azerbaijani lawmakers went too far in inveighing against Iran. Several Iranian lawmakers reminded their Azeri counterparts that the “age of your small country is less than that of our youngest lawmaker.”
Mohammad Reza Ahmadi Sangari, an Iranian lawmaker, pointed out that leaders of Baku have been “illusioned” by their Karabakh victory which was achieved by “Turkish doping.”
Officially, Iran, however, sought to defuse tensions and warns Baku against further cementing ties with Israel, the archenemy of Iran that is now seen by many Iranians as the driving force behind turning the south Caucasus region into a hotspot for Iran according to a longstanding besiegement doctrine.
Several Iranian officials, directly or indirectly, have urged Baku to distance itself from Israel and avoid being trapped by Tel Aviv’s anti-Iran plots.
During his Monday press briefing, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was asked about the presence of Israel in Azerbaijan. He bluntly warned that Iran will not tolerate Israeli presence in any neighboring countries.
“Iran by no means neglect its national security, and all its neighbors know this well. Messages are firmly sent to all neighbors. The Zionist regime has taken insecurity and instability everywhere it went. The Zionist regime definitely wants to see this region as insecure. Tehran and Baku must be careful that third parties do not interfere in these good relations,” Khatibzadeh asserted.
He cautioned, “We will not tolerate the presence of the occupying regime in Jerusalem near our neighborhood and in any other neighboring countries.”
Earlier this month, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, whose support for Baku during last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh 44-day war was appreciated by the Azerbaijani foreign ministry at the time, also commented on the situation in the south Caucasus region.
Addressing a military graduation ceremony via videoconference, Ayatollah Khamenei underlined the need for regional countries to rely on their own nations and avoid letting foreign countries interfere in the region.
“The armies of regional nations can run the region on their own and you should not allow others to enter. The events that are taking place in the northwest of our country in some of our neighboring countries are matters that must be resolved using this same logic,” the Leader said, adding, “Of course, our country and our Armed Forces are acting wisely. Our approach in all matters is to act wisely, authority coupled with wisdom. It is good if other governments act wisely too and not permit the region to face serious problems. ‘Those who dig a hole for their brothers will be the first to fall into it’.”
Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have many dimensions but Iran has mainly focused on the Israeli factor, one which it sees as the most dangerous element in the ever-changing politics of the region.
On the contrary, the leaders of Azerbaijan have boastfully spoken of their relations with Israel and praised them as being only “the tip of the iceberg.”
But many believe that Azerbaijan may need to think twice before cementing ties with Israel at the expense of souring its relations with Iran. Baku may not intend to undermine its relations with Iran by relying on Tel Aviv. But Israel sees its relations with Azerbaijan through the prism of its enmity with Iran. And this would probably get Azerbaijan into trouble that does not serve the interests of the Caspian nation.
Azerbaijan also needs to take a look at other Muslim countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia that tried relying on Israel in the security arena. These Arab countries paid a high price for embracing Israel in the hope that it will help them with Iran. But they soon realized that mending ties with Iran is better than antagonizing it and coalescing with Israel. After years of tensions, Iran and Saudi Arabia are reportedly about to reopen embassies.
The Arab states know better than Azerbaijan that Israel is a fair-weather friend that cannot be relied upon. In times of difficulty, Israel won’t hesitate to abandon Azerbaijan and leave it to face its fate in a tumultuous region that is increasingly holding a grudge against the political leadership of Baku.