Deciphering Azerbaijani president's provocations against Iran

October 16, 2021 - 20:40

TEHRAN – Is Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev sleepwalking into a conflict beyond his country’s capacity? Observers in the region gave intriguing answers to this question.

Ever since the sudden eruption of tensions between Tehran and Baku, many pundits and officials in Iran warned about the malign influence of foreigners on the Republic of Azerbaijan.

 In the beginning, it was “third-parties” but as Azeri officials went further in their hostile statements against Iran, it became clear what third-parties exactly means. Initially, Iranian officials sought to defuse tensions with Baku through diplomatic channels, the favorite way of Iran in addressing misunderstandings with Azerbaijan. 

To this end, Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Seyed Abbas Mousavi held several rounds of talks with Azeri officials in Baku in a bid to de-escalate tensions. But the Azeris took a step further and brought the spat to the media. In the meantime, several Azeri lawmakers made provocative remarks against Iran. 

Again, Iranian officialdom avoided a war of words. Instead, some Iranian lawmakers responded to their Azeri counterparts.
But when Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev jumped in, Iran found itself in a position to respond to Azeri provocations. But even when Iran decided to respond, it did so quite diplomatically.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian spoke over the phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov. During the conversation, the chief Iranian diplomat underlined the need for mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries and stressed that Iran and Azerbaijan must prevent misunderstandings in their relations and it is worthwhile to continue their ties in the right and growing direction quickly.

Meanwhile, many Iranian commentators and officials politely warned that tensions between Baku and Tehran could only serve the interests of Israel, which seeks to turn Azerbaijan into a forward base for its malign activities against Iran. 

In fact, some Iranians blame the whole episode on Israel’s provocations. Abdollahian told Bayramov that Tehran and Baku have enemies and the two sides should not give the enemies the opportunity to disrupt relations between the two countries.

Aliyev continued to make controversial remarks against Iran despite Iranian warnings that Israel stands behind the tensions. Tragically, the Azeri president even moved to vindicate Israel while continuing his hostile remarks against Iran. 

In the lasted move, he accused Iran of collaborating with Armenia in drug trafficking via Nagorno-Karabakh territories when they were under Armenian occupation, an accusation that drew a strong response from Iran.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh strongly rejected the “astonishing” new allegations made by Aliyev against Iran at the summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, calling them fabricated.

Again, Iran warned of an Israeli role in the drama. Khatibzadeh said such media accusations are only in the interests of the Zionist regime to affect the brotherly relations between the two nations of Iran and Azerbaijan.

Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani implicitly reiterated the same warning. Writing on Twitter, Shamkhani described as “false” Aliyev’s allegation on Iran’s involvement in drug trafficking. 

“Ignoring the neighborhood principles & making false statements can’t be a sign of a tact. Accusation against a country that the world recognizes as a hero in the fight against drugs has no effect other than invalidating the speaker's words. Beware of the devil's costly traps,” he tweeted. 

So far, Iran has sought to brotherly resolve the dispute which lasted more than expected. But it seems that there are invisible hands prodding Aliyev into prolonging his war of words against Iran. But why?

A Russian expert says Baku is escalating tensions with Iran in a bid to ramp up pressure on it as part of the West’s pressure campaign on Tehran to resume the stalled Vienna nuclear talks over the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The expert, Dmitry Solonnikov, who is the director of the Institute of Contemporary Development in Russia, put the Baku-Tehran tensions into the broader context of the current state of play between Iran and the West. 

“If there was no statement that Iran is about to build an atomic bomb…, then this confrontation between Azerbaijan and Iran would not have taken place now,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. 

If true, this assessment proves that Aliyev is dragging his country into an ill-advised confrontation that will cost his country dearly.

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