On September 30th, Iran put its neighboring countries on notice that it would hold a wide-ranging military exercise near its northwestern border, near Nagorno-Karabakh and its border with Azerbaijan.
The commander of the Iranian army’s ground forces, Gen. Kioumars Heidari, said the drill would test weapons, assess the combat readiness of troops and demonstrate the country’s military capabilities. It would involve drones, attack helicopters, tanks and artillery.
#BREAKING: #IranianArmy just announced that it is going to hold its largest exercise in Northwest of #Iran. The exercise is a response to the provocative statements of #Aliyev, president of #Azerbaijan Republic & also arrest of #Iranian truck drivers by #Azerbaijan border guard. pic.twitter.com/bxKifjeaGw
— Babak Taghvaee – Μπάπακ Τακβαίε – بابک تقوایی (@BabakTaghvaee) September 30, 2021
The exercises follow shortly after another set of drills in the same region about which very few details have been released. While Iranian officials insisted that those exercises were routine, they came amid a spike in tension between the two countries and prompted sharp criticism from Baku.
The drill starts on October 1st and will put Iranian soldiers and weapons near the Azerbaijan border, a prospect that has already raised alarm in the ex-Soviet Caspian Sea nation.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he was stunned by the planned drill in an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
“Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It’s their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border?” he said, noting it was the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that Iran was intending to stage such a show of force so close to its border.
Azerbaijan had not officially reacted on September 30th to the announcement of the new exercises, but local media made some reports on the matter.
“Those worrying about possible Iranian attack on Azerbaijan should know that any attack on Azerbaijan has a real potential to involve regional & global superpowers,” tweeted the English-language news website Azeri Times. “Such a scenario would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for global superpowers to attack. And Iran knows this well too.”
Iran long has been skeptical of Azerbaijan over its ties to the West and its military cooperation with Israel.
Azerbaijan and Israel have strengthened their military alliance in recent months, with Israeli-supplied high-tech drones helping to tilt the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Baku’s favor last year.
Iran’s foreign ministry drew a direct connection between the country’s military drill and Azerbaijan’s ties to Israel in remarks earlier this week.
“It’s clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime, even demonstratively, near its borders and in this regard it will take any action it deems necessary for its national security,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
The tensions with Azerbaijan have also complicated a vital border passage that trucks use to ferry fuel and other goods from Iran to Armenia. Azerbaijani authorities have detained two Iranian truck drivers in recent weeks for trying to take the route.
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