According to a report out this week in Foreign Policy magazine, Azerbaijan has granted Israel access to its southern airbases on Iran’s northern border from which it could potentially launch airstrikes against Iran. “The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior administration official reportedly said in early February, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan quickly denied the claims, and a senior official said that the allegations were “aimed at damaging relations between Azerbaijan and Iran.” Azeri-Iranian ties have been strained in recent months over the former’s relations with Israel. At the end of February, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called a meeting with the Azerbaijani Ambassador to Tehran and warned him not to let Israel use Azerbaijan to stage an attack. In a later meeting, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev confirmed that his country would not do so.
But according to Foreign Policy, Baku could still keep its word and provide Israel with essential support, such as allowing search-and-rescue units inside Azerbaijan or for Israeli bombers to land there after a strike, eliminating Israel’s problem of refueling its jets midflight to ensure a safe return home. According to the report, an intelligence officer noted that Washington is “not happy about” Israel’s alleged colluding with Azerbaijan.
On Thursday, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton accused the Obama administration of leaking the information to pressure Israel against attacking Iran. Bolton noted that he lacked proof that it was “an administration-orchestrated leak”, but said it would be “consistent” in a plan by the administration to deter the Israelis, as revealing “very sensitive, very important information” could frustrate a planned attack. inFOCUS contributor Yoel Guzansky at the Institute for National Security Studies agreed. In speaking to ABC News he said, “It seems like a big campaign to prevent Israel from attacking.”
On the other hand, such leaked information could perhaps work to deter Iran from its nuclear path out of a realization that a military strike is indeed on the horizon.
Azerbaijan and Israel have held close ties since the mid-1990s, somewhat due to both countries’ distrust of Iran. And Iran’s outrage at Baku’s continuing relationship with Israel may be pushing the allies closer together. “The more pressure applied by Iran, the more they unveil plots to carry out terror attacks on Azerbaijani embassies, the more they [Azeris] are co-operating with us,” an Israeli official said of the matter.