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Iran has other reasons for disliking Azerbaijan. Its neighbor is secular and, being 85 percent Shiite, its existence “gives the lie to the millenarian pretensions of the Tehran regime.” Azerbaijan is also disputing with Iran oil exploration areas in theCaspian Sea which they both border. And to top it off, the mullahs can’t stand its neighbor’s good relations with Western countries, above all with Israel, whose military relationship with the Azeri government on its northern border must be a source of great concern for Iran. All this has led the mullahs to adopt a hostile stance towards it fellow Shiite neighbor.
“…Iran has for years been seeking not only by words but by deeds to destabilize the legitimate government of Azerbaijan,” states Asia Times.
Assassinations, a conspiracy to overthrow the Azeri government and thwarted attacks against Israeli targets, including a plan to attack Israeli employees of a Jewish school, are among the black deeds the Asia Times article lists Iran as having committed against Azerbaijan. This year, internet sites in Azerbaijan were also attacked by hackers, calling themselves the Iranian Cyber Army. They posted “images of the devil over pictures of the Azeri and Israeli presidents and messages saying ‘Servants of the Jews’ and Enemies of Islam’.”
Israel strengthened its relationship with Azerbaijan, and undoubtedly further infuriated the mullahs, when it sold the Azeris $1.6 billion in arms last January. Anti-ship missiles, UAVs, Barak air defense missiles and an anti-missile radar system were among the items purchased. Israel and Azerbaijan have also launched a joint venture to manufacture Israeli-designed UAVs in Azerbaijan which may help Israel with sales to Islamic countries, since the UAVs are being built in a Muslim state. Israel has also established extensive commercial relations with Azerbaijan and had become its fifth-largest trading partner by 2005.
The anti-missile radar system may be particularly useful in any coming conflict with Iran. As part of its war strategy, Iran may use its missiles to destroy the oil facilities, upon which the West depends, in eastern Saudi Arabia and in Azerbaijan. Both countries are within range of such an attack. Israel also would be negatively affected by such a development; it imports one sixth of its oil from Azerbaijan, while Europe and the United States are also big customers.Azerbaijan also serves as an important transit country for oil coming from Central Asia across the Caspian Sea.
Not everyone is happy with Israel’s arms sales to Azerbaijan, since it may turn around and use those weapons against neighboring Armenia, with whom it fought, and lost, a war in the early 1990s over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the past, the Azeri president has uttered anti-Armenian threats such as “Armenians will live in fear” and “Our main enemies are Armenians of the world.” Others are against Israel having access to Azeri airbases at all since this may invite attack from Iran and extend any war to the Caucasus and thus to Azerbaijan’s all-important oil fields.
But Iran with its nuclear weapons program, terrorism and radical Islamic fundamentalism is a vital concern not just to Israel but also to Azerbaijan and other countries of the region. So if Israel having access to Azeri airbases will help end this destabilizing, large-scale threat, then who could be against it? Definitely not the five innocent Israelis and their bus driver so tragically killed in Bulgaria.
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