Iran lashes out as Azerbaijan opens embassy in Israel

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An Iranian diplomat criticized Azerbaijan on Friday after the Eurasian country opened its embassy in Israel. Iran’s relationship with neighboring Azerbaijan has been strained for some time, partly due to Azerbaijan’s relationship with Israel.

What happened: On Wednesday, Azerbaijan established its first ever embassy in Tel Aviv.

During the inauguration ceremony, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen discussed the “threat” from Iran. “Israel and Azerbaijan share the same view of Iranian threats. The ayatollah regime of Iran threatens our two regions, finances terrorism and destabilizes the entire Middle East,” Cohen said, reported by the Times of Israel.

For his part, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeyhun Bayramov, thanked Israel for its “support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty” in its territorial conflict with Armenia, according to the outlet.

On Friday, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the show of friendship between the two countries. The ministry referred to “implicit approval of the anti-Iranian orientation of their colleagues, demanding an explanation from the Asian authorities in this regard,” according to a statement.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement later on Friday in response, saying that Jeyhun has not expressed any attitude against Iran.

“In this regard, we consider this statement made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran as another anti-Azerbaijani step,” the ministry said.

Relatedly, on Thursday, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense condemned statements allegedly made by the commander of the Iranian Army, Kiumars Heydari, asserting that Islamic State fighters fought alongside Azerbaijan in the 2020 war with Armenia. The ministry called the statements “baseless and completely unacceptable,” Reuters reported.

The claim may have been referring to Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces that fought for Azerbaijan in the war.

Why it’s important: Israel and Azerbaijan have close relations. Israel buys oil from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan buys Israeli weapons, especially in 2020 during Azerbaijan’s territorial war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The conflict ended in victory for Azerbaijan.

Israel is widely reported to have a security presence in Azerbaijan, although it has not been confirmed. Azerbaijan’s statement on Friday specifically said, “Azerbaijan has never allowed its territory to be used against third countries.”

Former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Azerbaijan last October.

Cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan is a matter of concern for Iran. In 2021, Iran held military exercises on its border with Azerbaijan. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned the Azerbaijani ambassador in Tehran that “Iran will not accept the presence of the Zionist regime along its borders and will take the necessary measures against the activities of the regime.”

Iran is also concerned about Azerbaijan’s close relationship with Turkey. Iran is quite friendly with Armenia.

The tension between the two countries increased especially in January when a man attacked the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran with a gun, killing the head of the embassy’s security. Iranian authorities described the incident as a family dispute, but Azerbaijan called it a terrorist attack.

More information: An Iranian military commander was killed early Friday morning by suspected Israeli missile strikes in Syria. Iran said that Israel will get a “reply” to the attack.

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