In the continuing saga of attacks on Israeli targets abroad, Azerbaijan announced Tuesday that officials arrested 22 citizens suspected of plotting attacks on Israeli and U.S. embassies in the capital of Baku on behalf of Iran. Though the announcement came this week, the arrests were made back in January — the month before Azeri police detained different suspects, also connected to Iran and Hezbollah, planning attacks on foreign citizens inside the country. In addition, in February Israel blamed Iran for attacks on Israeli embassy personnel in Georgia and India.
According to Azerbaijan’s national security ministry, the 22 suspects arrested in January were trained at Iranian military camps in spy techniques and in the use of weapons. Back in Azerbaijan, the trainees were to employ the learned techniques to gain information on targeted areas in order to stage attacks. “The Azerbaijanis began spying on diplomatic missions, companies and public organisations including the Jewish centre Sohnut, a US fast-food restaurant, British oil company BP-Azerbaijan’s office and other objects in Baku,” the ministry said in a statement.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev.
Israeli-Azerbaijani ties have been strengthening lately, which of course has angered Tehran. At the end of February, the two signed a $1.6 billion arms deal in which Israel will provide drones and anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Iran’s neighbor. In response to the deal, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called a meeting with the Azerbaijani Ambassador to Tehran, Javanshir Akhundov, and warned him not to let Israel use Azerbaijan as a launching pad for an attack against Iran. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev, in a later meeting between the two countries, confirmed that his country would not be used to attack its neighbor.
But even with Azerbaijan’s assurances, Iran is likely concerned with Israeli advances to its northern neighbor at this time — advances that were possibly finalized with Washington’s approval. As Iran continues to feel the pressure of international disapproval over its nuclear program and continued support for the Syrian regime, its response may be to increase attacks against Israeli and American interests and people abroad. Fortunately, those plots have thus far been foiled.