The problem with the Middle East analysis is that people tend to look at everything in black and white, whereas the sensitive region is a mixture of several factors that are not often easy to understand and predict. Now, tensions are rising on the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Iran seems to be preparing for a swift war and everyone seems to think that the Shi’ite nation is targeting Israel. It is undoubtedly true that Israel and Iran are fierce enemies. Also, Iran hates Azerbaijan, whereas Israel and Azerbaijan are partners. Yet, Iranian war games aren’t targeted at Israel. Iran’s military manoeuvres are a message for Turkey and not Israel.
Rising tensions on the Iran-Azerbaijan border:
Iran and Azerbaijan are moving in the direction of an armed conflict. Iran has conducted some major war drills on its 700-km long border with Azerbaijan since the start of October. The exercises involved armoured units, artillery, drones, electronic warfare units and helicopters.
The Shi’ite nation has gone into a propaganda drive and some serious messaging. Iranian military-affiliated social media accounts have been releasing videos of large columns of materiel heading towards the Azerbaijan border.
Hossein Dalirian, an Iranian social media user affiliated with the highly influential Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tweeted, “Just imagine that a war breaks out with Azerbaijan. The Islamic Republic can fire 1,000 ballistic missiles and hit 1,000 key points. The war will end in one day. And there will be no time to use other equipment. Do not pay attention to bragging [by Azeri officials].”
این فقط یک فرض است!
فرض کنید شعلهی جنگ روشن شود و با آذربایجان درگیر شویم؛ جمهوری اسلامی در یک روز میتواند با 1000موشک بالستیک، 1000نقطه کلیدی را با دقت چند متر هدف قرار دهد و این یعنی جنگ یک روزه تمام!
اصلا نوبت به بقیه ادوات هم نمیرسد
خیلی به هارت و پورتها توجه نکنید، همین pic.twitter.com/bAVlG7cAiW
— Hossein Dalirian (@HosseinDalirian) September 29, 2021
Azerbaijan’s warning to Iran:
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan seems to have got infuriated. Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, spoke to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency. Aliyev described the Iranian war games as “surprising”. He also called them unprecedented in the last 30 years. Azerbaijan’s President added, “Why now? Why exactly on our border? These questions are being asked by the Azerbaijani public, not me.”
Azeri Times, an English-language news website seemed to warn Iran. It stated, “Those worrying about possible Iranian attack on Azerbaijan should know that any attack on Azerbaijan has a real potential to involve regional & global superpowers.” The news website added, “Such a scenario would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for global superpowers to attack. And Iran knows this well too.”
Those worrying about possible Iranian attack on #Azerbaijan should know that any attack on 🇦🇿 has a real potential to involve regional & global superpowers. Such a scenario would be once in a lifetime opportunity for global superpowers to attack 🇮🇷 And #Iran knows this well too. pic.twitter.com/AiDu5RjYom
— The Azeri Times (@AzeriTimes) September 29, 2021
What is driving Iran’s sabre-rattling?
There are two causes behind Iran’s sudden hostility towards Azerbaijan. The immediate cause is the attempt by Azerbaijani authorities to hinder trade flows from Iran to ethnic Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Iranian trucks have carried important supplies to the Armenia-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region for several years. However, following the Azerbaijan-Armenia war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory last year, Baku retook control of some territory that includes parts of the road connecting Iran to Nagorno-Karabakh via Southern Armenia. Now, Azerbaijani police and border security forces target and block Iranian trade in the region.
The bigger cause is however the growing tensions between Iran and the so-called “Three Brothers”—Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan. The “Three Brothers” organised joint military drills last month in Baku.
The Pakistan-Azerbaijan-Turkey military exercises were perceived by Tehran as a security threat. And therefore, a representative of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Baku to not “play with the lion’s tail”. The war games organised by the three Islamic countries is what is believed to have prompted Iran to move its military assets to the Azerbaijan border.
Again, another exercise between Turkey and Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea evoked a sharp response from Tehran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry pointed out the “illegality” of Turkey’s presence given a convention signed by the Caspian coast states.
Now, Turkey and Azerbaijan themselves understand that they are the ones on Iran’s radar. TRT World, a Turkish State-owned Turkish public broadcaster news channel, reported, “After Iran’s military deployment on its border with Azerbaijan, the two allies, Baku and Ankara, are conducting joint military drills in the Nakhchivan province of the Turkic state, sending signals to Tehran.”
The war lines are therefore being drawn very clearly. And it is Iran versus Azerbaijan and Turkey in the Caucasus. True, Israel had a role to play in Azerbaijan’s rapid military advances against Armenia last year, which had also angered Iran. However, Iran’s ongoing sabre-rattling is directed at Turkey and even Turkey seems to interpreted Iranian military manoeuvres as a direct threat.