Tehran, Iran – Iran and Azerbaijan have seen their relations deteriorate in recent months, with frequent clashes and accusations on both sides. The two neighbours, who share a long border and a common cultural heritage, have been at odds over various issues, ranging from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to ethnic separatism to Israel’s role in the region.
The latest escalation came on Friday, when Iran vowed to take “reciprocal diplomatic action” after Azerbaijan expelled four Iranian diplomats for allegedly engaging in “provocative actions” that were not specified. The move followed the arrest of six Azerbaijani citizens on Thursday, who were accused of being linked to Iranian intelligence services and plotting a coup in the Caspian nation.
These were not isolated incidents, but part of a pattern of rising tensions that have been building up for months. In late January, a gunman stormed the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran, killing its security chief and wounding others. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, a close ally of Iran’s arch-rival Turkey, blamed Tehran for the “terrorist” attack and shut down the embassy. Iran denied any involvement and said the attacker had personal motives.
Azerbaijan has also accused Iran of supporting Armenia in the decades-long dispute over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which erupted into a full-scale war last year. Iran, which has a large population of ethnic Azerbaijanis in its northwestern provinces, has denied taking sides and called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The Israel factor
But perhaps the most contentious issue between Iran and Azerbaijan has been their diverging relations with Israel. Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim-majority country, has developed close ties with Israel in recent years, especially in the fields of trade, defence and energy. Israel is one of Azerbaijan’s main arms suppliers and a major buyer of its oil.
Iran, on the other hand, considers Israel as its sworn enemy and supports Palestinian resistance groups against Israeli occupation. Tehran has repeatedly warned Baku against deepening its cooperation with Tel Aviv, saying it could pose a security threat to Iran.
The tension reached a new level last month, when Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov visited Israel and inaugurated his country’s embassy there. He also appointed its first-ever ambassador to Israel. During a joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, Bayramov said they discussed “forming a united front” against Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry reacted strongly to this statement, saying it could not ignore such a threat to its national security. A majority of lawmakers in Iran’s parliament also condemned Azerbaijan’s move, saying it would make it an accomplice of Israel’s “crimes” against Palestinians.
What lies ahead?
The deteriorating relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have raised concerns about the stability and security of the region. Some analysts have warned that the situation could escalate into a military confrontation or even a war.
However, others have argued that both countries have more to lose than to gain from such a scenario. They have pointed out that despite their differences, Iran and Azerbaijan have also maintained some channels of dialogue and cooperation on various issues, such as trade, transport and energy.
They have also noted that both countries face internal and external challenges that could limit their appetite for confrontation. Iran is struggling with economic sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, as well as domestic discontent over inflation, unemployment and corruption. Azerbaijan is still dealing with the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, which left thousands dead and displaced and created new humanitarian and security problems.
Therefore, some experts have suggested that both countries should seek to de-escalate the tension and resolve their disputes through diplomacy and dialogue. They have also called for regional and international actors to play a constructive role in facilitating such a process.
Title: How Iran-Azerbaijan Relations Turned Sour
Meta description: A series of incidents have strained the ties between Iran and Azerbaijan, with Israel’s growing influence in Baku being a major source of concern for Tehran.